The first two movements of the soul written in this blog in the past several weeks, including the movement of centering and opening, enables us to store spiritual energy within for the forming of intimacy with God and usefulness for God in the world.As with clay on a potter’s wheel, the most important work is what happens to us. Forces beyond us are at work upon our lives, working to center our souls, open our hearts, and shape our lives into the beautiful pattern God intended for us.
The third and final movement of clay is one that potters call “pulling up the walls”. A good potter like Jay Stewart will perform this anti-gravitational wonder in three pulls. I’m lucky to do it in seven. With hands properly braced, the potter forms his fingers as pincers on either side of the thick donut wall. Assuming the right among of moisture on the surface of the clay, steady pressure on either side of the clay wall and steady movement upward pulls the clay walls up. My pottery instructor taught us to throw from our right hand towards our left shoulder to counteract the left to right spinning force of the wheel. Of course, in this movement, about two dozen things can go wrong. Usually, several of them go wrong all at once. The clay gets dry. You hit an air bubble in the clay. You feel a need to itch somewhere on your back and twist your spine to adjust for the sensation. Your concentration wanders causing your outer finger to push too hard against your inner finger. Any of these and the pot moves onto the endangered species list. Moisten the clay, pop the bubble, ignore the itch, smooth out the uneven wall and you’re back in business.
Once the walls have been formed, then the pot is ready for trimming, drying, bisque firing, glazing and final firing. Almost every morning, I head to a cupboard in our kitchen, pull out one of Jay Stewart’s stoneware coffee mugs, and begin my day in quietness and prayerfulness, slowing sipping from a handmade piece of art. In that simple shape lies the whole wonder of the spiritual life. We begin to discover new life with God in this place of grace, as we fill our cup with soul habits that give us strength, gracefulness, beauty and stability. People who avoid “drawing up their walls”, often fail to discover hidden imperfections, interior places that are off-center, or a lack of stability.
Drawing up the walls can happens in our personal lives because we’ve yielded to the center and allowed our lives to become open. The spiritual grace of returning to God means allowing our lives to be centered and opened by a variety of pairs of hands: grace and truth, body and spirit, solitude and community, joy and sorrow, past and future, time and eternity. Between these forces, the clay of our soul takes form, becoming centered, opened and shaped into something of beauty and function in the house of the Potter. As the Bible describes us, “We have this treasure of God’s glory in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us (2 Corinthians 4:7).”