IN HIS HANDS
I have spent the last six years trying my luck at the pottery wheel. If you don’t know what I mean or how that works, I suggest looking at a pottery-making video on YouTube. It can be incredibly relaxing to watch (and might help this rant make a little more sense).
From the wheel I have produced a wide variety of clay products from spoon holders to chip-and-dip bowls to hundreds of mugs, each with its own unique process, requiring a specific skill set and intense concentration. I cannot count the hours I have spent sitting on a stool bent over a lump of clay. And all the while I considered it just a relaxing hobby—a way to relieve some stress or to use the under-stimulated creative part of my brain. The truth is, I was learning so much more than I understood. And now while I sit back reflecting on my semester, sipping on my latte, the Lord is opening my eyes to the real reason He drew me to play with clay.
The very reason forming pottery on the wheel is called ‘throwing’ clay is because the first thing potters do when they sit down at the wheel with a ball of clay in their hands is to physically throw it as close to the center of the wheel as possible. Yet they understand the impossibility, regardless of how accurate their arm, that the clay will never start in the perfect center.
Next the wheel starts spinning and usually the faster the better at the beginning. With firm hands the potter must push the ball of clay inwards, trying to use force to move the clay to the center. With each rotation of the wheel the clay moves slightly, the lumps and bumps disappear, and eventually the smooth clay spins evenly in the hands of the potter. Through this process it has been stretched, gaining elasticity and compressed, keeping it strong and glued to the wheel. One of the most important things about throwing is that the potter’s hands never leave the clay. Constant contact keeps the clay anchored on a non-moving source, trying to prevent it from wiggling off center again. It has a tendency to move away from the center without the guidance of steady hands or sometimes even with guidance the fast spinning wheel can take a toll on the lenient clay.
The idea behind centering the clay is this; if the potter wants to build a vessel capable of being functional, the clay must start “centered” to give the potter a solid base to work off of. If the clay wobbles all over the place and is full of air bubbles and hard clumps, the vessel will collapse soon after the potter attempts to form it. Centering the clay, although sometimes the most frustrating step, one that requires strength and perseverance, represents the most essential step to begin forming something beautiful.
Next the potter digs a divot and opens up the ball of clay, creating what looks like a donut whose hole doesn’t go all the way through. The process of “opening up the clay” makes room for it to grow, pushes it to expand, and prepares it for extreme change. Without this space, the potter cannot use the clay to form anything. The likelihood of the clay sneaking off center in this step increases as every touch of the potter’s hands moves the clay, and every spin of the wheel does the same.
After an opening has been established, the potter has the opportunity to do something called “pull the clay.”
During the pulling process the walls of the clay rise slowly, building the vessel and increasing the capacity of the clay to hold. This very tedious job must be done extremely slowly. Each pull for height stretches the clay more than it has been stretched before. As it grows, often times it reveals parts the potter never resolved during centering. Remaining bubbles knock it off center, or dried clay can thin the walls out. Each new expansion of height poses a risk of the clay becoming wobbly. But with skilled potters, despite how far the clay leans, it can always be drawn back into harmony with their hands. It is inevitable that the clay will wander; it will be unsteady at times; and it will require firm hands. The potter can pull the clay as many times as needed, which changes depending on its intended function.
The most beautiful idea is that throughout the entire process of throwing clay every interaction the potter has with the clay forms it to be the vessel he/she intends to create. After the potter establishes the height he/she can alter the shape endlessly. It could be a bottle-necked pitcher or a wide serving bowl. The same ball of clay can be changed from one form to another with the right intentional movements. The clay is ever-changeable; it is smooth, strong, and steady as the potter continues to push it towards the center. Even as the wheel spins fast, the clay remains anchored in the hands of its creator.
“But now, O Lord, You are our Father, we are the clay, and you are our Potter; and all of us are the work of Your hand” Isaiah 64:8
God threw us on the wheel that is the planet earth, and although He is perfect, we are not. We are thrown into a life of sin, an inevitable start that is “off center”. But His hands never leave us as He relentlessly pursues us and pushes us towards His center—the center of His will. We fight this process just as the clay fights the potter. We have air bubbles; we have dried up clumps; we have tough spots that God never gives up on. His hands can overcome even the most off-center clay, even the most overwhelming wobble. He does not stop holding His works of art. Even as the earth spins fast and knocks us off center, His hands remain steady, giving us an anchor to hold on to. Our calling is to be used by Him and to serve others. He asks us to give up things to make room for Him. While this “divot” or opening for Him seems to be a loss at first, in reality it represents only the beginning of what could be considered the greatest possible gain. We lose parts of ourselves so we can be used to lead people toward the family of God and towards spending eternity with Christ. This requires growth, expansion, and constant centering. It is not easy. And just like the clay, we resist being moved. But, once we allow God to have this opening, He can begin to pull us high. He can be gentle or tough depending on how much we need to grow. However, “pulling” does not always feel good. It requires us to rely heavily on His hands to keep us steady and to bring us to the exact height He wants us. Through His enabling, we expand to places and heights we have never gone before. While pulling us towards Him, He reveals the parts of us that are stumbling blocks or potential weak spots in our walls. These areas must be resolved in order for us to continue to grow. God never leaves us to do this on our own; He holds us and works through every clump to keep raising us up. He molds and shapes us in His hands. We are ever-changing for our exact purpose in every moment. He is the most skilled Potter; swift to collar us, or to expand us out to be the shape He wants us to be.
We are works of art of the almighty King, the one true God who spends every moment hunched over us holding us in His hands. He’s making each of us into a unique, incomparable, ever-changing vessel. His every move is intentional. No two vessels are exactly the same. Therefore, it is important to remember that we are all in different stages of development. Whether you are being centered, wrestling hard with the temptations of this world and the “off center” sin nature you inherited, or fighting the divot, struggling to make room for God to use you, or being pulled in ways you never imagined and growing exponentially even though sometimes painful, or being shaped and used for His kingdom where you are, God is there through it all. He knows what He is doing, and in every stage YOU are HIS work of ART. In every stage the wheel is spinning, tempting the clay to move, and in every stage God’s hands remain steady, ready to catch you.
We are vessels for Him, by Him, and through Him alone.
I encourage you to let the greatest Potter ever move you.