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Fr. Denis Pottery Studio - Marian Acres - 2023

Build it up, push it down.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord was, Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words (Jer 18:2).

This passage from Jeremiah has come to hold great meaning for me over the past two years. God the Potter, we the clay. The whole business of God shaping and fashioning us into a work of art known and understood only to him, the Master Craftsman — this has become of late my primary meditation on God.

This is for one simple reason — namely, that by God’s grace, I have learned pottery these past two years and am now at least an apprentice potter, though certainly no master. As I sit at my wheel and spin and spin the clay, I have come to see in great detail just how this particular craft speaks deeply to the ways of God with human beings, God with me.
God is, in fact, shaping our lives, shaping and fashioning us into something beautiful, something functional, something that is both a delight to the eyes and a useful object in the household. And he does it in much the same way as a potter makes a pot on the wheel. Let me explain.

First, pottery is unique among all the arts and crafts in that the potter shapes the material, the clay, with his or her own hands. Painters use brushes; woodcarvers, knives; sculptors use chisels; knitters, needles; and so forth. The potter uses his hands on the clay, shaping, forming it. Different potters make different pieces simply because hands come in all shapes and sizes. The finished piece reflects the specific hands of the potter.

God has his hands on us. We are God’s work of art, and he does not use intermediate causes, not really. God has his hands on you.

Furthermore, if you do pottery properly, you don’t hold and shape the clay at arm’s length with only the tips of your fingers. To make a good-quality pot, the potter has to position himself above and around the clay, almost enfolding it in his or her own body. There is an intimacy in the potter’s relationship to the clay.

So it is with God. God is not shaping us from a distance. God has his hands on you and me, intimately, hovering over us, shaping, fashioning, making us into something.

God is not some Divine Architect, a Master Planner with a big plan that just happens to involve you, somehow. No, he is the Divine Potter, enfolding you in his whole being, shaping and fashioning you with his hands, making you into something beautiful that mysteriously resembles his own being.

How does he do it?

Let’s talk about pottery and its steps.

First, you can’t do anything with a lump of clay unless it is soundly attached to the wheel. Otherwise, off it flies, the moment you begin the shaping. You attach the clay by throwing it down onto the wheel with a certain force and then patting it down, gently but firmly.

Well, so it is with us. God can do nothing with us if we will not commit to him in some basic fashion. This is the fundamental moment of faith in each of our lives. Is God real, yes or no? Is Jesus real, yes or no?
Bam! I tend to be a bit violent and throw down with some force, not only in pottery but in life in general. Other potters are gentler souls and are able to drop it down with a bit more ease. But we each must come to it, be it with force and drama and even some violent emotion, or perhaps just a gentle, firm realization. It’s all true. It’s all real. God is real.

God can do nothing for us if we are not able to make some basic commitment of faith in him. If we’re going to fly off the wheel the minute things start to happen, if we’re going to go flying away from God the very second he lays hands on us, he can’t do too much. Not until we’re attached. And that is the gift of faith.

Next, you cannot make a pot at all unless the clay is absolutely centered on the wheel, through and through. So, the next stage in the process is called “centering the clay,” working the clay lump to form a perfectly centered round piece that spins around in a perfect little circle. If you don’t center the clay, all you are going to make is a big, gloopy mess.

The way you do this is to build the clay up and push it down. Up and down, up and down, as often as needed. It can be quite a work, depending on just how much a mess the clay is — say, if it is not evenly moist or has air in it. The clay can put up quite a fight sometimes.

So it is with us. We can put up quite a fight. We might be attached, but are we really centered on Christ? Does our whole life revolve around the Lord and what he wants of us, what he wills, what he is doing, what he desires to make our lives to be? Or do we have all sorts of other ideas, air bubbles if you will, that are pulling us here and there and everywhere except where the Divine Potter wants us to go?

A great deal of the spiritual life is this process by which we become more and more centered on Christ as the way, the truth, and the life, and less and less pulled in all directions by all those foolish air bubbles we’ve allowed in.

It is so often a question of being built up and pushed down, built up and pushed down. Consolation, and desolation. Something beautiful seems to be happening — I’m built up! And then down, down, down it goes.

What happened? In my own life, I experience so many times when great things are happening and then, failure. Beautiful consolations and grace and then, darkness and dryness and toil.

What’s going on? Centering! We get built up and pushed down. We succeed and we fail. Life is good, and life is not so good.

If we are attentive and cooperative, and stay attached to the wheel of faith, we begin to know that it is not about being built up, not about being pushed down. It’s about being purified so that God truly becomes the very center around which our life revolves, the only thing that really matters.

If we stick with it, we get more or less centered, as does the clay on the wheel. So here we are, a nice, little, perfectly centered lump of clay, perfectly round, more or less shaped like a hockey puck. Isn’t that lovely! I made a hockey puck out of clay! It’s pretty! It’s useless! Try playing hockey with something made of clay. It will be a very short game.

So much more needs to happen, both to the clay and to us, to make us that beautiful thing that God delights in and can use to fulfill his purpose for us. And that is what happens next, both on the wheel and in our life.

To be continued

Restoration April 2024