Playing with mud as an adult has been insightful, even mind blowing. Who knew that taking up a new hobby of pottery would be a journey into spiritual and personal observation. Although we are just starting, we continue to be amazed at all that pottery is teaching us.
As my husband Tim and I settled into this new exciting season of empty nesting, we created a list of new things that we wanted to do together. Learning pottery was near the top of the list, so I organized an eight week class to begin learning this new hobby.
Deep in my spirit is a desire to create a home. Honestly, even deeper I find that I love creating. God made me that way. Naturally, there is something deeply gratifying in the idea of growing some of my own vegetables and herbs, baking bread and feeding people I love. With this trend of creating things to cultivate our home, we imagined that maybe our home could also include unique functional pottery made by us. Creating something tangible with my own hands and God-given gifts is deeply satisfying and strangely spiritual.
The Bible uses the imagery of pottery and clay in numerous locations. Ancient peoples relied on potters to create all kinds of functional pottery. They would be used to so much of what they used daily to be created by a potter. In the book of Isaiah the question is posed as to whether clay is equal to the potter. Can clay decide what it will be? Is that up to the potter? Isaiah also reminds us that He (God) is the potter and that we are the clay. In Romans clay can make something honorable or something for common use. If we pay attention, we see how clay is the substance of so many things that we use everyday even today.
As a potter I can throw clay on the wheel. I can roll out clay, impress a pattern, or create a shape by handbuilding. Clay can become functional potter such as a mug or plate. Or it can be come a sculpture or work of art with its only purpose to be admired. In the same way God is the creator or potter, I am the clay He is molding.
With all of the chaos swirling around in the world, it seems that many are pulling close to those we love. So many are recapturing the vision and joy of home. My response to the crazy is to pull even more strongly toward home and family. While I have always loved to create, the desire seems more intense than ever. Home feels like a safe, nurturing place. While doing pottery, I am learning much about life. When creating one is fully engaged in concentration. It order to be successful, I need to anticipate failure along with success. In life it is nearly impossible to be self-sufficient. God made us to live in community. The process fills me with inner confidence and reminds me that the result comes from a process.
Whether cooking or gardening or capturing a moment with my camera, working as a creative has always filled me with so much satisfaction. Since we first met Tim and I have created music and photography together. Since togetherness is a serious goal for us, we are now jumping into the world of pottery creatives together.
Here are five things we have learned so far:
Turn off all distractions. Hyper focus. Only through completely focusing on the work in my hands can I successfully center the clay on my wheel. Applying all my mental energy to the immediate task, I must live in the moment. Focus causes me to lose all sense of time. Momentarily, I forget the past and fail to worry about the future. Pottery takes all of your attention to complete the the steps correctly and prepare for what is coming next. I don’t sit down to any creative work unless I have the time to take it slowly enough to do it well. I am kind of an all or nothing person. Whether it is practicing my music or creating pottery, I need to give it my full attention. That is one of the best things about being a creative. You become immersed into the activity of creating.
2. Failure is part of life.
I should expect to fail. How I look at failure determines whether I move or don’t move forward. Failure is not fatal. As I am learning this new skill, I know that there are several skills that need to be mastered. Mastery is learned by failing. Mastery is learned by trying again. Mastery is learned by time invested. Life if full of unexpected failure. If I am expecting failure, then it does not throw me into a deep funk. I don’t wallow in shame and self-loathing. Failure does not bring me to a complete halt.
Failure is not fatal.
We all fail. I think that I fail more than I succeed. In pottery there is an overwhelming amount of failure. Some of these mishaps you can control. Much of it you cannot control. My experience as a new potter is more realistic when my expectation of some failure is coupled with some success. Many of my efforts have been thrown away or recycled. Some of the things I am trying to make turn into other things. Just like my daily work, a staggering amount of practice grows me slowly, but surely in my skill. Looking back at my early pieces, I can see how I have grown. Viewing any piece as a potential practice piece instead of a failure is uplifting. Just this morning I dropped a piece that I had just finished. Although it was very sad, I said out loud, “I guess that will be one of my practice pieces.” Looking ahead at gifted potters motivates me to celebrate my progress and stretch to new places.
In the same way, my spiritual journey is my own just as your spiritual journey is uniquely yours. In pottery, some of our learning has been from a master potter or from other students that are ahead of us in experience. Most of my progress comes from doing and failing, learning from my failure and then beginning again. Often success comes from developing muscle memory in the correct habits. This truth parallels our spiritual journey.
I believe one reason why pottery is so fulfilling when I am successful is because it is so hard. When I do succeed, I have a greater appreciation for my work. In my walk with God, the satisfaction is sweeter when I have wrestled through a hard situation. My appreciation for the mountain top experience is much greater as I realize the struggle in the climb.
It is just clay. Sometimes I create a piece of functional pottery while other times I just fold up my failed attempt of crumpled clay and start again. Nobody is disappointed in me. I can start again. I practice giving myself grace. I cheer myself by reminding myself that this was just a practice piece. This is such a wonderful pattern to follow in my daily life. I can start again when I fail. I practice giving myself grace.
3. Community over self-sufficiency.
While we might hang onto self-sufficiency in some areas, a new potter really must lean into the experience and expertise of others. In fact, we really need the help of those slightly ahead of us as well as those who have mastered pottery for decades. This truth carries over into our spiritual journey.
Once Tim and I stepped into this world of pottery, we were amazed at the vastness of the community. As we finished our eight week class, we were still sort of wobbly. An experienced potter named Glenn, who used to teach high school pottery for ten years, spent much time sitting beside us as we practiced. He made helpful comments and slight corrections. His insatiable encouragement cheered us forward to better skills. One of the potters we have admired for a few years loaned us his extra wheel. As some of his favorite customers, his work is in numerous places in our home. With a wheel in our home, we put in many long hours practicing throwing pottery. Recently, we needed to find a way to put much of our pottery created at home in a kiln. Through networking in the pottery community locally, we found someone who needed us like we needed her. Our new friend is sharing her kiln space with us. We are deeply appreciative.
These last two years have presented humanity with the stark reminded that we while are connected globally, we are also isolated. As the availability of regularly used items find themselves trapped in shipping containers and even other countries, we remember that we have all we need to take care of ourselves and our community. As a Christ-follower I highly value being part of a community of Bible-believers. However, it is paramount that I first spend time with God one-on-one. My faith has to be my own. Not my parent’s faith. Not my pastor’s faith. Not anyone else’s faith, but my own.
In pottery, we need our community. In life, we need people. In our spiritual life, we most definitely need guidance and encouragement that only comes through community. God made us for community. He created us to need each other. I like to think of how things work out as God’s doing. Albert Einstein said, “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” Nothing surprises God. He has amazing ways of meeting our needs even if the needs seem trivial.
4. Inner Confidence
Creating things, especially functional pottery, connects us to our inner confidence. Creativity grounds us. When we create something with our hands, it is as if it has its own soul. Perhaps that is one of the gifts of using the creative skills that God has placed in each of us. A deep overwhelming sense of satisfaction comes from creating in our giftedness. This inner confidence has us breathing in deep, life-giving breath. This inner confidence has us smiling even when we are alone. This inner confidence has us looking for ways to share our joy. Joy is not complete unless it is shared.
5. It is a process.
Pottery left to dry on its own, or should we say left alone, is of no value. It is only when pottery has gone through the fire that it becomes strengthened and usable. In fact, it has to go through the fire twice. Initially, when the piece is formed either on the wheel or by hand building it, it waits as greenware. This is the most fragile state. It is more vulnerable fully formed, but not yet fired, then it will ever be. We can add all the glaze and fancy handles that we wish, but without the fire our pottery is of no use. Firing it once to bisque and then a second time for glaze, gives it strength and ensures usability. Most pieces completed are both dishwasher and microwave safe. This process invites contemplation in a truth parallel.
Like our pottery, we are formed and fired. Only the process of fire in life will give us strength and true durability.
Since God is the ultimate creator, it can be truthfully assumed that we are most like him when we are creating. I love this idea. Because I am an excessively responsible person, I often wait to do things that are more fun until my work is done. Most of these activities fall in the creating category. Creative fun may be playing my piano or guitar, taking pictures, baking, scrapbooking and creating pottery. Lately, I have been moving more often to the creating stage because of the overwhelming joy found as a maker.
Perhaps Eric Liddell, the famous Olympian runner was correct in his response when asked why he loved running. He said, “God made me fast and when I run, I feel His pleasure.” I can’t help but think that whether I am playing the piano or guitar, taking pictures, baking bread, planting my garden or handbuilding a blessing box for my new granddaughter, God is glorified in my use of the gifts he has given me.
So, if learning pottery has been on your bucket list, do it soon. Don’t be surprised if you find wisdom while you are working at the wheel.
Join me for a conversation on this topic on our podcast Embrace Your Everyday.
Watch the video that Tim created about our experience with Belltower Coffeehouse & Studio.