Work in Progress

Jeremiah 18:1-11 | Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17 | Philemon 1-21 | Luke 14:25-33

God tells his prophet Jeremiah to go down to the potter’s house. Before God says anything more, Jeremiah watches the potter working at the wheel. If you’ve ever worked with clay, you know it’s more intense than watching.

This clay that you’ve kneaded and pushed and shoved is slammed onto the wheel. Then you dribble some water from a sponge onto it to get it more workable, easier to move. The goal at the early stage is to get it centered in the wheel. If it’s not centered just right, the whole thing will be difficult and likely turn out lop-sided, which is more often than not what happened to me when I worked with clay as a hobby years ago. 

But when you watch someone who has developed their practice, they make it look easy. With strong and certain arms and hands, they center the clay on the wheel, and the clay spins like an ice skater, balanced and fast, slowing at will, ready for the next move without falling over.

This doesn’t mean that a perfectly centered piece won’t go awry. An imperfection in the clay, being too wet or too dry . . . anything can cause the piece instantly to wobble into a mess. So the potter begins again to collect it into a centered mass to be reshaped, reworked, still working with the same clay with which he began, hopefully with patience. 

I don’t know how often I thought about this passage from Jeremiah while sitting at the wheel, looking down at my hands, trying to will the clay to be centered. It was a euphoric feeling when the clay got centered, spinning perfectly in the middle. I hoped my life was centered, spinning in alignment with God’s will. Interestingly, Casey and I were working with pottery right before I went to seminary. As I worked with the clay, I was very aware of how much like clay I was, vulnerable, navigating through forces unseen, being shaped along with my own discernment into something yet unknown to me. I still feel this way, as I’m sure we all do as Christians because our journey isn’t one from birth to baptism to perfection and then to death. Created as perfectly as we are, just as we are, we get wobbly along this journey through life. We get off-center, too greedy, too self-righteous, and often self-destructive. We might be an uncentered mess, but we’re not without the hope of repentance, of being rebuilt, reshaped, reformed, and restored. We can be re-created, even resurrected, into the whole person God intends us to be from before we were born.

Richard Rohr talks about “order, dis-order, and re-order” as the process through which we go to experience transformation and reach true change in our life. Gone through intentionally, the re-order can be done oriented toward God, granting us resurrection experience, new life. We rise to be shaped as someone good and useful for the kingdom here and now. We can hear the words from Jeremiah as very dark, with God promising destruction for God’s people, but we can also hear the hope in the people’s option to repent and turn toward God. The people can turn away from the abandonment of God and turn to walk in God’s way. They have the opportunity to be reworked and transformed. 

This theme of transformation continues in Paul’s letter to Philemon. What starts out as a very complimentary letter turns into a serious request and expectation. Philemon and his household and home church are asked to receive Onesimus back to the house not as a slave but as a brother. I imagine Philemon’s heart sinking, the wheel coming to a screeching halt. We witness a moment of decision in slow motion. Scholars presume that Onesimus fled as a slave and was captured. Paul, who probably encountered Onesimus in prison, adopted him as a child in faith, and, knowing the man’s story, Paul writes Philemon to propose that he receive Onesimus back into the household as an equal in Christ. Talk about opportunity for transformation! Scholars can’t affirm that Paul wanted Onesimus to be granted complete freedom, which is what we would want him to mean. Slavery was a social construct of the time that we cannot deny, but our faith and tradition has certainly come to interpret a life lived fully in God through Christ to be one of freedom and true love of God and neighbor, which leads us to uphold the freedom, rights, and dignity of all. Paul affirms that Onesimus has been transformed by his belief in Christ, and now Philemon has a decision to make which will reveal how much his life has been transformed by Christian love: does it indeed transform all his relationships, including those with whom he has enslaved.

In our gospel lesson, where do we see things being reworked and transformed? This lesson can be challenging. Jesus uses the word we translate as “hate,” and if you’re like me, that’s not a word we use lightly.

Jesus lays out what is required to be a disciple. Speaking to the crowd, he says that if they want to be a disciple, they have to “hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters” and “even life itself.” Also, a disciple has to carry the cross and follow Jesus. The crowd at the time didn’t know what we know now. What we know is that to carry the cross and follow Jesus means to carry a great burden even unto death. We end this lesson with Jesus saying that to become a disciple, we have to give up all our possessions. 

What we really need is a transformation of this lesson into good news!

Thankfully, the good news for us is that we have everything we need to be disciples. Our collet says, “Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts.” Our psalm reminds us that we are “marvelously made” and that God has knit us together in our mother’s womb. God has searched us out and knows us–our sitting down and our rising up, our thoughts and our ways; God knows us altogether.

So also does Jesus know the crowd to whom he speaks. Remember that he has just left the dinner with the Pharisees, where he was among the invited guests, likely the privileged people in the community. Perhaps these people are among those who follow him, but maybe others from the community also follow him, people who have a lot, people like Philemon who have households and the ability to hold church in their home and provide hospitality to those gathered. Jesus tells these people to “hate” those whom they would hold near and dear and even life itself if they really want to be disciples. If we hate something, we completely detest it, are almost if not completely repulsed by it. Maybe we don’t realize how much we hate something until we encounter it and feel physically sickened by it. Maybe Jesus wants the crowd to hate their attachment to the way things are, their attachment to protect and preserve “me and mine.” Rather than all the stuff we think we need in our lives, what Jesus knows we need is our whole heart, our whole self, without extra baggage. 

Like Paul telling Philemon to exercise Christian love in receiving Onesimus into his home, Jesus is telling the crowd and even us to let go of all our superficial attachments so that our life might truly be centered in Christ. Yes, we navigate in our familial relationships and society, but our Christian family is so much bigger. The human family is likewise our family, deserving and worthy of our love as siblings, as children of God.

Our very life as we think it should be, when it is reworked to be aligned with God, is no longer our own. We are not coerced into obedience to God, but because we love God so much, love one another, we want to be obedient to God. We want to reach out to our neighbors in Christian charity, in true love, and share what God has graciously provided. We want to carry the cross we are given to bear and to follow Jesus even to the grave.

Jesus uses strong language that definitely gets our attention, but it’s not our attention that Jesus wants. Jesus desires a transformation and sincere disciples. If we allow his words to rework our thinking, our perspective, we realize that if we detest the social structures that make us overly protective of what we think is ours alone, then we can transform our worldview to see the great human family, all of God’s children, wonderfully and marvelously made. With Christian love, we want everyone to have access to that which helps them thrive, and we will reach out to our neighbors, even strangers, to uplift them, even if it challenges what we thought we knew or understood.

All Jesus asks of us is ourselves. Love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves. “Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts.” Sometimes we need a transformation of our own ways of thinking, and God knows this, too. We are enough. Centered in the love of God through Jesus Christ, we have all the perspective we need to live a life that is transformed by that love. When we encounter those moments in our life when we are conscious that the decisions we make have the opportunity to reflect our love of God, we have immense power to give witness to our life as a disciple. Thanks to God’s infinite mercy, God keeps us on the wheel even when we mess up, guiding and shaping us when we listen and allow it, holding us in infinite love and strength.

The human vocation is to be true co-workers with God and stewards of creation. 

~Denis Edwards

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Clay Day

claybowl.jpgWe still need to fire our kiln, so I’m working to help fill it up.  What better way than with a huge bowl?  After the Cherokee Holiday, I’ve been wanting to try hand building with coils, so here’s my first go at a large piece.  Bumpy.  Imperfect.  Good enough for me!  My hubby fears it will take forever to dry, but it sat in the autumn sun yesterday and got a good start.

I also want to work more with slab pieces, so here’s another go at a different piece.  It’s to be a gift, so hopefully it will turn out, too.  I pressed some freshleaf_vase1.jpg maple leaves onto the top (the leaves are still in place for the photo but peeled off fine after drying a bit), and the impressions turned out well.  I’ll probably wax-resist them before glazing to preserve the detail.

I am very much still in the learning process, and I’ve given up that practice makes perfect.  Better to tell the kids (and myself) that practice makes it better.

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Try, Try, Try . . . and Try Again

The proverb says if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again, right?  Well, I did, and I wasted at least two pounds of clay.

With the kids out of town and the littlest one sleeping, I decided to revisit the ol’ pottery wheel.  It’s an electric, so I feel like it’s just a machine.  The clay, on the other hand, comes from the earth, so I feel like it can have a mind of its own.  At least, that’s what I’m going with.  I tried with at least three helpings of clay and at least a dozen times to get it centered today so I could make a vase or even just a small bowl.  It wasn’t happening, and I could feel my temperament sinking, even with my now awake daughter watching me.

Thoughts going through my mind:  Perhaps I am not a potter.  Of course I’m not a potter; I’m a writer.  But everyone can write.  Can’t everyone wield some clay?  I’d just like to make something nice for someone.

Why won’t this center?  Am I not centered?  Are my arms that weak? My husband says that it’s not about your upper body strength.  You don’t have to strong-arm this.  Then why the hell is it knocking me around???

I’m not a quitter, but I know when I need to stop and get a new perspective.  I cleaned everything so that it will be nice for my husband when he decides to use our last bit of clay.

How many times do you not succeed before you give yourself permission not to do something?  (I’m trying to keep this as optimistic as possible; pardon the double negative.)  My thinking is that the answer is not simple.

Rather than try to make a concrete decision as to whether or not I’ll accept my fate as a non-potter, I’ll take the lesson that I have more to learn and more practice to do.  It’s a hard lesson to take, but our number of practices is determined by how well we can accept the current moment for what it is, no matter what we are doing or want to do.

I need to exercise my patience better.  I’ll stop by the clay studio and ask for a reminder lesson.  And I’ll practice more, if I can make myself take the time.  Some lessons take a while to sink in.  I am grateful for my time to grow.  No, really, I am!

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A Day to Do While Trying to Be

My late posting reflects my busy-ness this morning trying to follow-up on e-mails, making sure I have no loose ends.  The task continues, but I shall not fail to inspire you to do something crafty today, even if my own craftiness may just be decluttering my house, which seems to have a peculiar odor to it.  Hmmm.

This past weekend, we jumped at the opportunity to go hiking with friends.  It rained, but Hemmed-In Hollow Falls makes for a great hike — a bit arduous though the kids managed it all (5 miles), except the youngest, of course, who was carried.  I’m still a bit sore, even though the hubby is the one who carried her most!  (The Wiki-pedia link for Hemmed-In Hollow is here.)

Most crafty of the experience was our visit to Osage Clayworks, which isn’t far from the trail.  We got to visit with Newt in his studio/retail store.  Inspiring and sincere.  The visit was delightful, and most importantly, the kids had a blast making little clay creations which he will share with other kids after they’ve been fired and glazed.  Our kids got to take home little creations from other little hands, and the youngest enjoyed following the cat and dogs around.  We couldn’t help but buy a couple of apple bakers, and we can’t wait to try them.

Last but not least, this start of April signifies the beginning of National Poetry Month.  Let your heart and your art be inspired by the everyday simple beauty around you.

Can you watch
the sunrise without counting the minutes,
naming the colors,
wondering when the sun will peak over the horizon?

Can you be still
long enough to change with the clouds,
dark fade away,
feel the earth turn to show you our sun?

Can you
be still
Now.
Smell.
Taste.
Feel.
See.
Hear
the Sun rising.
No surprises.
No disappointments.
Be risen.
Now.
       -sara

Enjoy your spring and Easter season.

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Clay Mama Beads

Venus_von_Willendorf_01.jpgNot the most interesting title, but true nonetheless.  I’ve been wanting to do this since I myself got a Venus of Willendorf-inspired bead for my blessingway necklace.  I realize that making the tiny beads is a true talent.  Even making the bigger ones is a skill.  As I’ve just begun, please don’t take my experience as the rule.  Take it as inspiration!  I myself received a beautiful gift of a necklace from my roommate at the CIMS Forum.  She made her beads of polymer clay.  Beautiful is all I can say!  Nope, she’s not selling them, or I’d send you her way!  If you’re looking for ceramic clay beads, this looks like a good artisan site.

What I did:

  • Take a small wad of clay

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  • Roll and smoosh it to get it compact.
  • Shape away!  I also used the coil technique 
    to add a little extra to the “belly.”

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  • I used a tool (above the coil in photo above) to cut the hole through the bead.  Important to remember is that the clay shrinks about 10% when fired.  If you’re using a bead tree, know that your bead needs to fit on the steel rod loosely.  Also, when glazing, I’ll have to make sure to wax resist well so as not to get glaze round the rod/hole.
  • I’ll dry these and fire them with the rest of the items.  This will be a first, so I’ll have to update you on the process/results.I’m going to have my childbirth class make some tonight while we’re discussing birth.  It’s always good to engage the senses!

      
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Have fun!

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Morning at the Wheel

Normally, you find me slinging clay late at night, after the kids are asleep.  Since today’s a snow day, our schedule is all askew, and with hubby at hand to snap photos, I can relay my pottery craft.  I call it “craft” because I don’t know enough to consider it my art.  I don’t mix the clay or understand the minerals of it, and I am terribly inefficient.  I took a wheel class, but I haven’t studied or perfected the technique behind it; it’s on my list of things to do.  Right now, I’m helping keep our local pottery shop in business and enjoying the learning process.

We are blessed to have an electric wheel (a Shimpo) and a nice electric kiln (Skutt).  I am blessed to have a husband that doesn’t mind spending our retirement money on hobbies.  If we’re lucky, maybe selling the pottery in our retirement age will get us by.  🙂

So, this morning, I make a mess, and here’s how I do it.  If you’re looking for a detailed how-to, I can suggest a simple book, but I recommend taking a class.  Pottery is very hands-on, and you just have to do it to get it.
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Thumbnail image for cut clay.JPGCut the clay off the block.  Already, I’ve got my tools and bucket of water by the wheel.  Then, “wake” the clay.  Oversimplified, this compacts it.

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Center it on the wheel, using high speed. (This exercise tests your awareness and breathing, actually quite a good morning experience, but that’s for another post.)  I like working “off the mound” since I think it’s easier to center, which for me is the hardest part.  Naturally, it is also the most important part.

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Open it up.

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Pull it up and shape it.

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Cut it off the mound
(even though my mound isn’t very high).

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Set it out to dry a bit before trimming.  (I brought mine indoors to dry quicker so I can trim it tonight.)  I use another bat with newspaper.  If I were leaving it for longer, I would cover it with a plastic bag, which is what we did in our weekly pottery class.

I figure I waste enough clay in the process, so I try to use what is left on the wheel.  Today I actually got another bowl of sorts out of the leftovers.  In class, our very talented instructor worked off a much larger mound and could produce bowl after bowl.  Someday . . . someday.

Next week, I’ll show the trimming.  It will be a couple of weeks before we bisque fire.  We want to use up the clay we have, filling the kiln as much as possible, to be more efficient.  Plus, it uses most of our wattage to fire the kiln — no laundry, dishwasher, microwave, or t.v. while it’s going!  After the bisque, then we’ll glaze, and I can show the final product, hopefully in one piece (another lesson in non-attachment!).

Thanks for reading!!  I would love comments or advice.

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