Pottery, one of the most ancient of crafts, has been practiced for thousands of years. Sometimes, pottery provides the only evidence of the existence of a people. Through pottery archeologists learn about their daily life, celebrations, struggles, and beliefs.
God can be likened to a potter and we the clay.
Yes, Lord, you are our father;
we are the clay and you our potter:
we are all the work of your hand. (Is. 64:7)
Isaiah and Jeremiah (See Jeremiah 18:1-6) frequently draw on a common everyday experience to illustrate God’s presence and action in our lives as particularly evidenced in these two passages.
God, our Potter and Shaper, longs to fill us with Himself. He reveals himself in the events of our daily lives. God’s hand reaches out to grasp us with love, challenging and fashioning us into the image of His Son.
My first and only piece of pottery that I made was a statue of St. Therese the Little Flower. I wanted it to be perfect so I corrected the blemishes or I thought so. It was still not perfect after firing it. St. Therese was determined to be her own person, blemishes and all. Even so, I was proud of her for it was my handiwork.
We are God’s handiwork. Even before we were born God knew us and loved us. God knows us now with all the dents, blemishes, failures, and successes; and we are still loved.
In making a piece of pottery, one must moisten the lump of clay with water. This is done in order to make it pliable and soft enough to actually use it. The potter kneads the clay and gets to know the characteristics of the clay- how soft or firm, smooth or rough, pliable or rigid.
Each piece of pottery is unique even if it is from the same mold. Have you ever tried to duplicate your mother’s soup? It just does not taste the same. I think my mom put her own unique personality in the soup, and I also put my own uniqueness in the soup.
Likewise, each piece of clay has its own stress points and potential. God made us in His image and likeness with our own uniqueness, stress points, and potential for developing that which is within each of us.
St. Ireneaus, the fourth century Doctor of the Church, says: “It is not you who shapes God; it is God who shapes you…If then, you are the work of God, await the hand of the artist…who does all things in due season. Offer him your heart, soft and workable and keep the form in which the artist has fashioned you. Let your clay be moist, lest you grow hard, and lose the imprint of his fingers.”
If we are not moist and flexible in life, we can become hard, hostile as we grow older. St. Ireneaus exhorts us to “keep the form in which the artist has fashioned you.” We are loved by God and are loveable. We have the possibilities within us to bring forth the human person we really are. Allowing God to fashion is a gradual process which Catholics called conversion.
The Potter and the clay (us) work in partnership. Some may think that the image of potter and clay makes the clay (person) passive and not have a choice in the shaping. God kneads us, God needs us. God’s vision needs the raw material (us) in order for the clay to be formed. God needs our receptivity, openness, and creativity. Clay is nothing without the potter. Unless the potter has a vision of the clay’s possibilities, clay remains a formless mass.
Besides the Potter, we are being shaped by others. There is the saying, “I am putty in your hands.” There are those who strengthen us when our clay is thin and encourage us to develop gifts. They say, “You can do it.” There are those who try to shape us into what we are not and bend us out of shape. There are others who punch holes in God’s design by their words or actions; and we bleed. There are those who remember we are the Creator’s design and speak words that heal our sagging spots. Their touch reminds us of God’s healing touch.
Both Isaiah and Jeremiah remind us that we can become rebellious clay. At times we want to be the potter and in complete control over shaping our lives and those around us. We can become closed to anyone’s wisdom. We don’t take the time to listen to others or to what God is trying to reveal to us through others.
Only by working in partnership with God can we move toward our own potential.
I close with a saying from Hildegard of Bingen: I [God] uniquely, lovingly, embrace every image I have made out of the earth’s clay.
By Sister Marie Leonard, OSB
Image from https://www.globalawareness101.org