I've been thinking for awhile about the parallels between ceramics and the Christian walk. A few months ago a friend sent me the verse Isaiah 64:8 which says "Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand." (On a slightly off-topic note Jeremiah 18 talks about Jeremiah visiting a potter who is throwing on a wheel...being a lover of ceramics I find this very exciting.)
The past year has been quite a strain on me. Parts of it were absolutely beautiful and I was so thankful for them and was so amazed how how much God loved me and how much He blessed me when I did not deserve it. I was in awe. However, parts of it have been really hard too and have involved loss and stress among other difficult things. I will admit that when harder times rolled in I worried that I had done something wrong and was paying a consequence for it. I don't deny that sometimes the difficult times we face are consequences for bad decisions and disobedience, but I think that a lot of times hard times are mostly times of refining us. It's not a punishment, it's a process meant to cleanse us of our impurities.
When I read Isaiah 64:8 I began to think about the refining process in a Christian's life in comparison to what we do to clay to make it into something. Clay takes quite a beating. I won't go through all that has to happen to it before we potters get it...let's just start with the wedging process.
To prepare clay to be thrown on a potters wheel you wedge it to remove air bubbles. They say this helps to align the particles and make it easier to throw with too. Wedging clay is like kneading dough in some ways but you have to do it right or you will wedge more air bubbles into it which you don't want to do. I usually weigh out the amounts I need and wedge them so they are ready to be thrown.
Then it is thrown down on a potters wheel and from there you center it. To center clay you have to use your hands and apply pressure so that the clay is in the exact center of the wheel so that it can be thrown uniformly. From there you start to open it and throw it and stretch it and shape it into what you want it to be.
After you finish throwing it you dry it out until it can be trimmed. At that time you trim away the excess clay that you do not need and continue to shape the vessel to your desire. This is also the time to alter it by cutting into it or manipulating it in some way. You can apply decoration or carve into it and handles or spouts or knobs or whatever it is that your vessel needs at this time.
(trimmed, handled and being decorated)
After the pot has completely dried out it is then glazed and fired. The clay I use had to be fired to cone 10 which is roughly 2350 degrees farenheit. This melts the glaze and turns the clay into ceramic. This is the point that is most important. Firing takes a little while and depending on how you fire it, it may take quite a long time. This photo is from a wood-firing where we fired for over 30 hours.
(wood-firing in China)
After the kiln has cooled you can open it and remove your pieces. At this point you may need to do some touch-up work. Sometimes things don't turn out as they're supposed to and need to be re-fired. Sometimes the glaze runs and you have to grind it down. Sometimes there are sharp places that need to be ground down too. But in the end you (hopefully) have a beautiful or at least useful vessel.
These last two photos are mugs that were given to me by friends/classmates while in China. The first one is from my friend Erica and the other is from Andrea. Both of their work is beautiful and I enjoy using them so much.
So after that lengthy, photo-laden description of how to make ceramic vessels this is where I'm going to tie the everything together. Or at least I'll try to.
Isaiah says that we are the clay and God is the potter. We are all the work of His hands. And as we walk with God he is constantly making us into something. Just like when we work with clay and are constantly stretching or squeezing or pushing and pulling and manipulating and cutting, etc, God is doing the same thing with us. And just as we add and subtract things from our work God adds and subtracts things from our lives. Some of the things we do to our pots are to ensure strength and usefulness and I believe God does things to us to strengthen us and make us useful. And the most critical part of the process is the firing where unimportant things burn off and everything melts and fuses and becomes strong and safe for use...I think that this scenario is true of the process we go through as God makes and refines us for His purposes. It can hurt...it is definitely uncomfortable...but it is not meant to harm us. It is not punishment. It is a blessing. It is part of how we become useful vessels for God. And another cool thing about this process (and part of what potters and ceramic artists love the most about ceramics) is that from start to finish the potter is completely hands-on through the whole thing. The potter is always handling the work, overseeing its conditions, caring for it while it is weak, controlling the environment it is in, etc. The potter is hands-on and interacting with the clay the entire time. That is true of our walk with God too. We are never alone and He is constantly interacting with us, caring for us, loving us and finishing us into useful vessels for His glory.
I love it when passions collide.