Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Into the Fire

The other day, one of my students submitted a ceramic communion cup and plate set as her final project. She talked about the process of making it, about the necessary compromises between her original vision and the concrete exigencies of available resources. Having no potter's wheel meant the cup had to be hand-built rather than thrown. Having no kiln meant a search for firing space to rent. Having no recent glazing experience meant trying to predict how the glazes would look after firing, based only on small color samples that someone else had made. Then, despite her careful planning, there was the sad moment when the nearly-finished plate shattered and she realized that she would have to start again. She chose the glazes as best she could, put the cup and re-made plate into the fire, and waited.

I have often observed that those who make objects of fired clay are the most courageous of artists, their relationship to their chosen medium most easily compared to the spiritual life. After all their thought and effort, they must quite literally submit their work to the fire, often multiple times. The heat of the kiln changes the clay, making it hard as stone, changing its color, and melting the glaze into a thin layer of glass. What emerges from the kiln may be shattered into a thousand shards; or slumped into an unrecognizable lump; it may become something near to the thing of shining beauty that the artist envisions. Whatever happens, the object that enters the fire always emerges transformed.

Like a potter who puts her work into the kiln and waits to see what will happen, all of us are forced to make compromises every day between our vision of perfection and the unpredictable messiness of our actual lives. Every morning, I arrive at my office with a list of what I hope to accomplish. Then, someone needs me to make a decision or answer a question, someone else needs a shoulder to cry on or simply an ear to listen, and someone else offers me an opportunity that I cannot pass up. By the time I leave the office, I have done a lot, but often not the things that were on my list. My student's communion set didn't turn out quite the way she had planned, but she is still happy with the result and hopes to use it when she is ordained. May those who receive Holy Communion at her hands be blessed by the fire that transforms us all.


  1. beautiful... I'll try to send you (email) a copy of a sermon I did several years ago - The Potter's Hands. Wayne Pratt

  2. Thank you. I'd like to see it.

  3. I much appreciate this affirmation of my imperfection and of "the fire that transforms us all," including, at least potentially, me. I understand that this post casts the metaphor in a much larger context, but it speaks a word that I very much need to hear. --Ken Burton