When you hear the word “clay” – what do you think of?
How is pottery different from clay?
What does a potter do?
Have any of you ever worked with clay?
Have you used a “potter’s wheel” before?
What’s it like working with clay?
Does the item you are working on come out right, perfect each time?
What happens when it doesn’t turn out right, or just falls on you?
Pottery is a beautiful form of aft. Interestingly, art and Christianity have a lot of similarities. “Art doesn’t fundamentally lie in the creation of the material (medium) to be used. The material is a given – it is to be understood, practiced upon, cherished, for sure, but not created. Art lies in the recreation of that material in a new form.
Christianity is not about imaging something perfect, called creation, and straining to get ourselves back to that ideal state. It’s about taking the material of humankind, the surrounding world and universe, and exploring the form of a relationship between God and us, and contemplating the governing idea that God, the artist, will go to any lengths to restore that relationship” (Wells, S.).
In our Jeremiah text, we once again find the image of the potter and clay. This image goes all the way back to the beginning of humanity. In Genesis 2:7, we hear how God formed humans from the dust of the ground. We were fashioned specifically and carefully by the Creator, the grand Potter, in God’s own image.
Art – painting, making music, sculpting, working clay on the wheel, etc., is often thought of as one-sided. The artist has the idea, the grand design, and works the material before them to meet the image they envisioned, right? The paints, the clay, the musical instrument don’t have a say ibn what they become do they? They are intangible, so they can’t have a role in the creative process…..or can they?
Art is actually a very relational process. The artist becomes immersed in the medium they are working with. It is almost as if the material speaks with the artist, or as artist, Michelangelo Buonarroti said: “The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there. I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” (goodreads.com/quotes)
I think that the creation of humanity followed a similar process. God’s own hands gathered the dust of the earth, dampened it, worked it, and shaped it just right, before breathing life into each of us.
Ever since, God has allowed each person to live and function on their own – independently and collectively, making good choices and bad. Over the years, God remains in close contact with each of us. Sometimes, we can hear God and feel God’s movement in our lives clearly. Other times, we believe we can go it alone, that we don’t need God’s guidance or “interference” in our lives, and we drift further away from God, and often from each other. God doesn’t give up on humanity, though. God continues to remain close to us. The relationship doesn’t end because we believe that we don’t need anyone, even God.
Yet, “the very manner in which God speaks to the people through prophets is intrinsically relational. Thanks to Walter Brueggemann in particular, the church is waking up to the fact that Old Testament prophetic language is not neutral or merely descriptive but expressive, engaging, committing – always seeking to evoke a response. Precisely because the language seeks a response, its working will depend on the nature of that response” (Wells, J.).
Here in our Jeremiah text, we see that give and take, the interchange and co-creative actions and expressions of humanity (the clay) and God (the potter). Like clay, we are meant to remain soft enough, malleable or flexible enough to be shaped and reshaped by the circumstances around us. Frequently, though our lives seem to become misshaped, brittle, chipped, and broken; they can even fail or fall apart on us.
Through it all, God continues to try and offer up warnings to us when we venture into unhealthy decisions and territory, just like God did to the people through Jeremiah. Sometimes, God must use tactics and people that will produce a reaction; that we will wake up and respond – hopefully we will realize where we have ventured into dangerous territory (physically and emotionally), where we have gone astray spiritually, repent and turn towards God once again.
By doing so, by turning back to God once again, by admitting that we are malleable clay, that we do need the grand potter in our life to help shape us and mold us, God is able to full re-engage with us and will become hands-on in our lives once again, seeking to rework us, mend our wounds, strengthen our resolve, and reshape us into faithful, useful servants and vessels once again.
My friends, we come from dust and to dust we will return at some point in our lives. In the meantime, we are to remain as malleable flexible clay formed into useful and faithful vessels of God’s spirit and love – each individually shaped and continually re-shaped by the potter’s hands.
May it be so…..AMEN
Wells, Jo Bailey, “Blogging toward Sunday.” https://www.christiancentury.org/blogs/archive/2007-09/blogging-toward-sunday
Wells, Samuel, article Christ the artist, we the portfolio, printed in February 1, 2017 issue of Christian Century. https://www.christiancentury.org/article/faith-matters/christ-artist-we-portfolio