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Fr. Denis Lemieux holding is crafted pottery

We are being spun and pulled and shaped and fashioned…

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.

As I was saying in the last issue of Restoration, this verse from Jeremiah 18 has become for me a primary point of meditation on the ways of God and man, God and the human soul, the human person. God the Divine Potter, we the clay in his hands.

God fashioning, shaping, bending and twisting and stretching the frail poor clay of our human lives to make of them something both beautiful (a delight to the eyes) and functional (serving a real purpose in the kingdom).

This meditation has become very central to my life as I have learned over the past two years the craft of pottery myself.

By God’s grace and the generosity of many benefactors here in our Missouri house, I have been able at least to begin learning this difficult and intricate craft. As I have done so, I have truly seen how profoundly the work of the potter does indeed mirror the work of God in our lives.

Last month I described how the potter first attaches the clay to the wheel, signifying the basic commitment of faith necessary for God to do anything in our lives.

He then centers it on the wheel, signifying the great and arduous work of purification where our lives become more and more utterly centered on Christ and not pulled in all directions by everything and anything else.

Once the clay is centered, it looks more or less like a cute little hockey puck — a perfectly round lump of clay, flattened on the top. Very nice, but not good for much.

The next step is a very simple one — to open the clay. The process is to find the dead center of the clay as it spins around on the wheel, take our thumb and stick it in, almost right to the bottom. And then, with a lot of precision and control, that opening gets widened to whatever width is needed for the kind of vessel you are making, and there you are with the barest beginnings of a pot.

So it is with us. As that perfect little hockey puck is not good for much until this happens, we too are not good for much until we get opened up. In other words, our lives are not about ourselves.

The image of pottery is perfect for the whole human experience. What is a pot, a bowl, a cup? It is a vessel, an empty space encircled by clay, that can hold something, something which is then for someone else.

That clay is us, our human life, our human stuff, but we have to learn and realize that God made us for others, made us to be vessels, containers of something that can be given, and the name of that something is love, given in service.

So we have the grand opening, the plunging of that divine thumb into the very heart of our being. This is life.

For many people, this comes with the reality of marriage and then children. You were doing fine on your own, and then your heart was not your own any more. A husband, a wife, and then a child, and maybe another, and … well, you tell me. How wide can a heart get? How many people can fit into your heart, or into mine? One, two, a dozen?

Maybe if your “pot” is wide enough, it can even fit everyone.

For all of us, married or not, children or not, it’s all about love. No exceptions. We’re all called to be that open space surrounded by the frail clay of our humanity.

God has made every human being for one reason and one reason only, and that is to be a vessel of love, of compassion, of goodness and kindness, for the world.

If there is anything else going on in our life that doesn’t square with that, well, back to the centering process we go. Unlike clay, where each step has to be done in order, we go back and forth quite a bit. Re-attach, re-center, re-open.

Once the clay is open, there is one further job on the wheel, and that is to pull the clay up to form the pot with walls and a rim, to shape and form and fashion the pot into the specific thing it is to become. Is it a vase, a bowl, a jar, a mug, a plate?

This is where the art of pottery truly enters in, to make something that is unique and beautiful. Stretching, curving, bending, rounding, narrowing, pulling, pulling, pulling. No two pots quite the same, and each with its own beauty and goodness.

So it is with us. Every one of us is to be essentially the same thing, an open vessel for love, but every one of us is this one thing in a unique way. It’s a question of our own personal vocation, our own size and shape, if you will.

And this is the great mystery of all our lives. All the incidents, events, circumstances, people; all of the good, the bad, the ugly that has transpired in our lives, so mysterious, so hard sometimes, and almost always largely beyond our control — all of this is taken up into the hands of the Potter shaping us, stretching us up, bending us out, gathering us up.

Whatever else is happening, even if things are happening that are very wrong, very hurtful, very painful, in some strange mysterious way the Divine Potter is taking that into the work, the craft, the art.

Clay is a fragile medium, and you can only do so much to it before it will collapse or tear.

Human beings are a much more durable and beautiful medium, and God can shape us, break us, twist and bend us, and turn us into something far more beautiful than even the most beautiful human work of art could ever be.

The hitch is this: just like the clay on the wheel, we cannot see what the Potter is doing. We are being spun and pulled and shaped and fashioned, and we really and truly have no idea what God is doing, what he is making of it all.

And so we come back to another prophetic text, Can the clay say to the potter, what are you doing? (Is 45:9).

Well, we can ask him — he loves us, after all, and he doesn’t mind the question, I don’t think, as long as we don’t mind the answer too much.

Because the only answer God will ever give to that question, in this world, is “trust me.”

And so we go, spinning our way through life, called to trust in the One who holds our lives in his hands, and who knows what he is about.

Click here to read Part One of Fr. Lemieux’s article Life on the Wheel”.

Restoration May-June 2024