Pottery 101

So, I started a pottery class today. I needed to find something enjoyable to do in this big congested city that makes me feel like I can’t breathe. If you’ve been to a huge over-populated city, you know what I mean. So I found a little place where I can learn how to throw pottery (learning the wheel). I need a place to journal my thoughts, so I’m using my blog. If you’re not interested, that’s fine. I don’t care and I won’t even know. But this is a good way for me to think through what I’m learning throughout the class.

kneading[Notice the potter is not turning his face away, but focused]

The instructor made it all look so easy! Almost as if she’s done this since she was two! I learned something today. It’s not as easy as it looks. I’m not even talking about the wheel… I’m just talking about the first part where you take the cold lump of clay in your hands and have to knead it. For whatever reason, I wasn’t getting it. She seemed to not get how I couldn’t get it either… hey, I’m just a lump of clay, not a potter. So she showed me how to make a ‘cow head’ as she put it, and knead it a certain way… Somehow not putting pressure or it would “catch the air” as she said in Thai and cause air bubbles. I didn’t understand why I had to knead it so much before I could do what I wanted to do (work on the wheel), until she took a string, cut open my clay in half, showed me air bubbles, and said, “No good. Can’t make pottery.” Oh, ok, I get it now. And after I kneaded, I cut open my clay and it was beautiful inside… no air bubbles, perfectly smooth!

In this process of kneading, trying as best as I could to do it without putting even more air into the clay, I thought about that. I thought about how my entire life God has had me in his warm, gentle, strong hands, kneading me. Getting all the air (empty space, really) out of me so He could finally put me on the wheel. Oh, and sometimes you have to occasionally slam the clay hard on the table. Then when you’re done kneading, you repeatedly slam it against the table, making a tight round ball. I felt kinda bad about slamming the clay. I didn’t want to, really. Not that the clay has feelings. Maybe just because I knew that clay represented me. And I knew I didn’t like being slammed down like that by the Potter. But it has to happen.

It really does hurt Him more than it hurts me.

And that was my pottery 101 lesson of the day.

kneading2

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I'd rather be a doorkeeper…

Reading Psalm 84 this morning. Always been one of my favorites. There’s so much there. This worship leader writes about yearning [literally, ‘becoming pale’, ‘pining after’], even fainting [same word as used in Genesis 2.2 when God ‘finished’ His work], to be near God’s house. His heart and flesh cry [literally to ‘creak’ or ’emit a stridulous sound’… not sure what that word means, but it sounds rather painful] out for the Living God.

Most of us know the song, “Better is one day”. There are probably atleast 100 bands that have recorded this song in their own style. No comment. Back on topic though… a different song came into my mind while I read Psalm 84. It’s a song I first heard the year I graduated (2000). “Breathing” by Lifehouse.

I can honestly say that I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked (basically, do any other thing that would try to fill a void only being near Him can fill). I imagine myself sitting in the dark and cold outside the house of the Lord… knowing full well that He is in there. Just knowing that I am right outside the place where His face can be seen, His voice can be heard, and His touch can be felt… well, I’d rather be there than elsewhere. I don’t know what Lifehouse was thinking when they wrote the song, “Breathing”, but I’ve always imagined it as an expression of Psalm 84.10

“Breathing” by Lifehouse

I’m finding my way back to sanity, again
Though I don’t really know what
I am gonna do when I get there
Take a breath and hold on tight
Spin around one more time
And gracefully fall back in the arms of grace

I am hanging on every word you say
And even if you don’t want to speak tonight
That’s alright, alright with me
‘Cause I want nothing more than to sit
Outside Heaven’s door and listen to you breathing
Is where I want to be

I am looking past the shadows
Of my mind into the truth and
I’m trying to identify
The voices in my head
God, which one’s you?
Let me feel one more time
What it feels like to feel
And break these calluses off me
One more time

‘Cause I am hanging on every word you say
And even if you don’t want to speak tonight
That’s alright, alright with me
‘Cause I want nothing more than to sit
Outside your door and listen to you breathing
Is where I want to be

I don’t want a thing from you
Bet you’re tired of me waiting
For the scraps to fall
Off your table to the ground
I just want o be here now

Valley of Vision

A good friend (whose opinion on books I would always take into account) suggested The Valley of Vision, which is a collection of puritan prayers and devotions. This is real stuff. Raw, authentic, heart-cry prayers. Here is some of the prayer that I found today, to whet your appetite… Taken from “The All-Good” except:

“Thou art all my good in times of peace,

my only support in days of trouble,

my one sufficiency when life shall end.

Help me to see how good thy will is in all,

and even when it crosses mine

teach me to be pleased with it.

Grant me to feel thee in fire, and food and every providence,

and to see that thy many gifts and creatures

are but they hands and fingers taking hold of me.

Thou bottomless fountain of all good,

I give myself to thee out of love,

for all I have or own is thine,

my goods, family, church, self,

to do with as Thou wilt,

to honor thyself by me, and by all mine.

If it be consistent with thy eternal counsels,

the purpose of they grace,

and the great ends of thy glory,

then bestow upon me the blessings of thy comforts;

If not,

let me resign myself to

thy wiser determinations.”

Current status: In process of resigning myself to His wiser determinations in withholding the blessings I once so joyfully embraced.

Broken (by Lifehouse)

The broken clock is a comfort, it helps me sleep tonight
Maybe it can stop tomorrow from stealing all my time
I am here still waiting though i still have my doubts
I am damaged at best, like you’ve already figured out

I’m falling apart, I’m barely breathing
With a broken heart that’s still beating
In the pain is there is healing
In your name I find meaning
So I’m holdin’ on, I’m holdin’ on, I’m holdin’ on
I’m barely holdin’ on to you

The broken locks were a warning you got inside my head
I tried my best to be guarded, I’m an open book instead
I still see your reflection inside of my eyes
That are looking for a purpose, they’re still looking for life

I’m falling apart, I’m barely breathing
with a broken heart that’s still beating
In the pain is there is healing
In your name I find meaning
So I’m holdin’ on, I’m holdin’ on, I’m holdin’ on
I’m barely holdin’ on to you

I’m hangin’ on another day
Just to see what you will throw my way
And I’m hanging on to the words you say
You said that I will, I’ll be ok

The broken lights on the freeway left me here alone
I may have lost my way now, haven’t forgotten my way home

I’m falling apart, I’m barely breathing
with a broken heart that’s still beating
In the pain there is healing
In your name I find meaning
So I’m holdin’ on, I’m holdin’ on, I’m holdin’ on
I’m barely holdin’ on to you

Just an earthen vessel, emptied again

[something I wrote for a recent newsletter]

I’ve always loved music and it’s always been a way to help me connect with God. My first favorite band was Jars of Clay. I loved their music, of course, but I was intrigued by the band’s name, too.  The best illustration to explain my life is a jar of clay. I still remember the revelation when it hit me, “Oh! It’s not about the jar of clay! It’s about what’s inside the clay that makes it special!” I have always been fascinated with the illustration of the clay in the Potter’s hands. Let me tell you why…

From the moment of my birth, the Potter has had his hands around me. I was delivered by my father (who was not medically trained, unless delivering animals on the farm counts) in a tiny trailer in N.C. When I was four, I remember hearing about this God for the first time, and of course wanted Him to live in my heart. He has been molding, shaping, spinning, and pressing me ever since. Growing up in a C&MA church and Christian family, I responded to the need to go and tell those who have never heard. God took my 10 year old little heart seriously and thus began the journey of being a missionary. I thought that when I finally got to the ‘mission field’ (wherever that was) I would a perfectly prepared jar of clay to be poured out to the world. In fact, the first song I ever wrote (in high school) contains the chorus:

“And I’m told I’m the clay, in the Potter’s faithful hands, they say. And I hear that someday, they’ll only see perfection He’s made… Now I know I’m the clay, I’ll remain in Your hands today. And I know that someday, I’ll only be perfection You’ve made.”

I tried so hard to be a perfect vessel. All the vessels in king’s palaces are beautiful, intricate, and flawless. I wanted to be one of those. But I couldn’t do it, no matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t make the blemishes, wounds, cracks, and weaknesses, go away. It wasn’t until after college that I realized it wasn’t about the clay pot, but about what’s inside. I re-wrote that last line to read, “And I know that someday, I’ll only shine out the light You’ve poured in”. I want to share how I learned that.

potters hands

I always wanted to try my hand at ‘the wheel’, to get the potter’s perspective. In 2005, I got a very special birthday present. She paid for me to take a pottery class at the local art center. She wrote me a poem, which I later turned into a song:

“Well, I hope you meant what I heard you say when you said, ‘What I want is to someday, try my hand. Down at the potter’s house, hands on the potter’s wheel. And see for myself how it would feel. Child, try your hand at the potter’s wheel. Take a lump, touch and feel. Find it heavy, hard, and cold. Go ahead, impress and mold. Push into the center of your will. Spin and reel, touch and feel, watch until, grip-less slime reveals your hands so young so frail.”

Potter%27s+Hands

During that class, I have no doubt the Holy Spirit led me during one of the projects. I had no idea what I was doing or what it meant until it was complete (see attached picture). That evening, I quickly went home and journalled the experience from the perspective of the clay: “I felt safe in your warmth. Your soft hand caressed my shell, smoothing the roughage, making my ugly places beautiful and right. Then you did something I wasn’t so sure about… you grabbed that sharp tool and brought it toward me! Your eyes looked so focused, your gaze fixed upon me, never straying…But what are you doing? You’re cutting my top, ripping the unneeded and unwanted parts of what I use to be. It hurt so bad as you cut those places away, but I had to keep trusting your hand. Then, You formed my top, and though I could not see its shape, I heard the voices of two other potters say, “It looks like a lily!” Those words made me feel so beautiful and lovely. A symbol of purity… finally, you were purifying me. I’m so sorry your hands were dirtied with my filth. But I’m grateful for your touch. You give me beauty. But then… you sliced down my front… I wondered when you would stop. It hurt so bad! I knew then, for sure, I would never be a lovely vase to hold dear lilies. You sliced too far down, I couldn’t even hold water. I think that’s my tear that just fell from your hands. But I trusted your hand; I surrendered to your plan, even if it wasn’t what I had hoped. Then you cut a deep design, one that hurt so deeply it could have been my heart. It was. Then, you gave me a new heart! You continued to cut below my new heart. You were spelling something… s… h… i… n… e. The cuts went so deep, my inside was exposed. And lastly, you poked holes all through me… from bottom to top, all around me! All sides of me, exposed! I cannot hide. Now all the world will see… all the way through me! Why? Every crack, anyone could look and see right through me, through my heart and brokenness! What would they see? The inside, dark and cold and ugly? O, my Potter, please don’t let the world see all that’s inside me… only you have seen the real me. Why the word, shine? Do you want my ugliness to be seen through these cuts? [the clay goes through the kiln for intense heating and then sits alone on the shelf for what seems like forever] Ah, I finally see the Potter’s hand… I knew You’d come back for me and fix all these broken places! Oh, but what’s this? A candle? A fire to burn powerfully inside me? Your light is chasing away my darkness! In your light, I become light! O, precious Potter, you’ve taken me, a simple lump of clay and formed for yourself something special, right, perfect, transparent, broken. But just what it’s supposed to be. You’ve filled me with all the light and power I need to shine for you. I hear you whisper my name… “Shine”. For I was taken from dirt, yet you created me to be more than a clay pot. You shine through my brokenness!”

I share this with you because I’m going through a rather disillusioning time right now. All my life, I imagined myself as a piece of clay spinning vigorously upon the wheel, or being molded by the Potter, or put in the kiln for intense purification, or set on the shelf for drying. I assumed that when I got to the mission field, the vessel would be ‘ready’ for use. But I’m realizing that somehow I think I’ve got it all wrong, because I’m finding myself back on the wheel, where I started in the first place. The first thing the Potter does after harshly slamming it onto the spinning wheel, is to hollow it out. He’s creating a void and empty place in me that I’ve never known before. I’m finding that I need to re-learn who I am, and re-learn who the Potter is. I encourage you to keep looking up into the Potter’s eyes and keep trusting His hand, being mindful that Thailand doesn’t need to see another beautifully perfect piece of pottery, but they need to come into contact with pottery that lets His light shine through their brokenness.

“For God Who said, Let light shine out of darkness, has shone in our hearts so as [to beam forth] the Light for the illumination of the knowledge of the majesty and glory of God [as it is manifest in the Person and is revealed] in the face of Jesus Christ. However, we possess this treasure [the divine Light of the Gospel] in [frail, human] vessels of earth, that the grandeur and exceeding greatness of the power may be shown to be from God and not from ourselves.” (2 Cor. 4.6-7 AMP)SHINEcolorSHINEBW