clay and fire

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Clay and fire.  Earth inspired artistry.  A potter at work.

Pummelled and kneaded to evenly distribute moisture and release air bubbles, smooth clay is prepared for the poised pressure of skillful hands and will-filled turns of a potter’s wheel.  The potter holds this raw material in position with devoted determination while stress and strain is applied at different points to form vessels of elegance and beauty, functionality and duty.

The end result is already in the eye of the artisan who works with the clay, toiling until it takes the shape for which it is intended, moulding, defining as he or she sees fit. Delaying the desire to hold its finished form, a potter takes the many steps required to unearth the full potential seen within this fine grained soil, not recoiling from the harder inner work so in the end each piece will wear the glory of the artist unspoiled.

A jar or cup or bowl enters the oven for firing, solidifying all the painstaking work which has come before.  Fragile yet strong from the heat of the kiln, painted, glazed and perhaps sun dried until it may be filled with purified purpose, individual pottery pieces eventually emerge from the long process ready for service, uniquely lovely.

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The pottery metaphor speaks to us particularly when we are spun about by challenges which come from many pressures roundabout us; when circular arguments stir the pot; when the treacherous turning of tables redirects our efforts and we want to yell, ‘Stop!  I want off!’

‘Lord, steady the hand of one in such a place.’

We may lose our focal point through the dizzying effects of deceptive spins falsely interpreting actions or inactions. We may face cruel opposition as a spin off for promoting the glory of Christ instead of the glory of man. We may come to feel as though things are spinning out of control, away from our essential identity and purpose in Christ.  We may see where the church is under threat of being thrown apart by the centrifugal force of resistance to the Potter’s hand, jarred by the possibilities of brokenness.

As we wait to see the end result, we wonder how things will shape up in our spheres of influence through the churning, turning of events under our servant leadership.  But we also slowly come under a deeper realization that the invitation to be conformed to the likeness of Christ through the learning, discerning of relentless prodding to be faithful to the God we serve is first to us, receptacles of his Spirit who breathes life into our earth bound frames to name his name at every turn.

Shaped by Love.  Shaped for love.

“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”  (2 Corinthians 4: 5-10)

When we feel the heat of testing, we may fear we are simply spinning our wheels with vessels ill prepared to reflect the beauty of the Son.  In the searing loss of dependence on our former dampened propped-up selves, we may shrink from flames of full surrender instead of thinking this is gift … counted worthy to be set apart, fired with his all consuming love to hold his gospel grace.

We may at times try to retreat to being a lump of unshapely clay in avoidance of the maturing process, but the pinching push of his loving hands continually squeezes new patterns out of what has come before to set us standing tall, a slender vase to hold his holy light glazed in refiner’s fire by the Spirit’s work in us, or, to set us sitting low, a simple cup of joy to hold the story of his perfect love whereby we gaze in sweet communion with the Three-In-One when called to contain the suffering of the world and be forever changed.

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Fires of adversity seem to be a necessary part of being more fully formed in Christ.  We would like to be able to adjust the temperature ourselves and turn it down to more comfortable zones.  But the deeper death to self is only found in high degrees of painful self awareness of our need, accepting who we really are in Christ and letting false illusions burn away.

Weaknesses are strengthened through the hardest times.  Spinning, turning, whirling on the potter’s wheel etches the pattern of Spirit life upon our souls when we respond with willingness to grow.  Under his guidance, chisels of challenge and knives of conniving cohorts reshape parts which need to go or be reformed and trace the fingerprints of God in our uniqueness when we let him have his way.

At what points might we be resisting the Potter’s hands?

‘Lord, put pressure on our souls so we may take your godly shape in place of gaping grooves of human nature incompatible with love.  Turn us about to smooth away edges rough from being out of shape, marred by mistakes and mishandling the truth that we as earthly creatures are remade in you, fired up to serve the world in love.  

And for the one who feels the faintness of the endless spin, or fans the flames of growth within but knows the harsh discomfort this can cause until the airiness of ego is removed, speak a tender word of hope that all will be as it should be when as trays of clay we are removed from the fire of trials for the final time.  May we feel your hands not only in the kneading, not only in the feeding of the fire, but in the gentle bleeding of your heart upon our souls to brush us with the closeness of your saving care remaking us and marking us for yourself, washed in your love.  Amen.’

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