The Potter’s Dirty Little Secret


“The difference between ‘involvement’ and ‘commitment’ is like an eggs-and-ham breakfast: the chicken was ‘involved’ – the pig was ‘committed’.” – Unknown

Remember that famous scene from the movie “Ghost” where Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore are getting their hands dirty (briefly) at a pottery wheel? One moment they are sliding their fingers around on wet clay and the next moment they are clean and dry and moving off into another-scene-this-blog-is-not-getting-into, ahem? 😉 For many people the idea of a potter’s wheel is sort-of an iconic symbol that means something different to different people, such as a representation of our individuality, or the fact that we can be re-made even if we have been “marred”, or perhaps it is the basis of pithy yet trite sayings such as “God uses cracked pots”, etc.

Those ideas, if a bit shallow and incomplete, are all well and good, except for the glaring error present in all of these ideas: the focus is on the clay and not the Potter. Naturally, before I go any further, I want to be upfront and just say that in NO WAY do I consider myself an expert on pretty much anything, especially the nature of God; BUT I have been chewing on some new ideas lately and I’d like to share them with you.

Jeremiah 18:1-6 records an epiphany in the spiritual journal of the nation of Israel:

“THE WORD which came to Jeremiah from the Lord:
Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause you to hear My words.
Then I went down to the potter’s house, and behold, he was working at the wheel.
And the vessel that he was making from clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he made it over, reworking it into another vessel as it seemed good to the potter to make it.
Then the word of the Lord came to me:
O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does? says the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.” – Jeremiah 18:1-6 AMP
There are so many gems we can discover as we delve in the Word of God. I am, embarrassingly, not as regular about this as I should be. Thankfully, God in his mercy manages to sneak me my spiritual veggies in many diverse ways. 🙂 I notice several things from this snippet of Scripture. First of all, God initiates relationships with us, every time, even with the seasoned “spiritual veggie eaters”. He also sometimes wants us to do something, go somewhere, say something, think something, out of the ordinary for us. If God wants to teach us something new, he will oftentimes change things up on us. Sometimes it is inconvenient or uncomfortable. Jeremiah was a prophet, which made it his JOB to have these kinds of encounters with God and be able to relate truth to the nation (in this case Israel) he was sent to reach. What if this was a bad time though? What if he lived in our time-frame and his favorite show had just come on TV, or he wasn’t feeling well, or had just gotten home from a stressful day at work, or had a fight with his spouse? What if Jeremiah had allowed the temporary to supersede the eternal as we so often do? (This is not really meant to be the focus on the post for today. I just want to give you a little extra bit of gristle to chew.)
None of the many distractions of life actually DID win out over God’s instructions this time, however; and we have a wonderful bit of treasure to dig up and examine and take home to our little spiritual hidey-holes. 🙂 Jeremiah obeyed God and went down to the potter’s house, where, lo and behold, the potter was just doing his thing. He was making pots, and urns, and pitchers, and all the various and sundry useful and beautiful things that can be made with clay.
There is a show that I used to watch when I was younger on PBS called, I think, “The Prairie Potter”. I could not find specific information on the show when I looked it up however. I have always been fascinated by the transformation wrought on raw, unattractive materials when a creative person goes to work. What a gift to us all is creativity! Anyway, let me tell you, getting back to my point, that pottery is messy! It involves attention to detail, timing, just the right combination of water and clay, steady pressure on the inside as well as the outside to shape the piece, and naturally is the heating time in the kiln and the glazing and finishing and maybe another firing in the kiln. I am not confident that I got all those steps in the right order, either. 😀 The point is that the potter is invested in the finished work, and the potter always signs his finished pieces. The potter gets his hands dirty. He gives each piece his time and attention. It’s not watching the evening news while he knits an afghan and talks to the dog attention, either. The clay on the wheel is of highest priority. The potter, you see, has a plan. With every piece there is a design in mind. If something happens to the clay, it doesn’t just get thrown out as he moves on to the next hunk of clay. No, the potter keeps working with the clay until it is fit to be used for his intended purpose.
Many people today think that God is like a cosmic toy maker. They suppose that he created the world and then turned the giant key to wind it all up and summarily washed his hands of us all. I do not believe this represents a Biblical viewpoint at all. With such great care that he used as he fashioned Creation, it would be foolish and careless for God, who is LOVE incarnate, to step back from the ones he took such care to create. God is intimately involved with us, from our very first joining of cells until the last earthly breath we take, and beyond. (Matthew 6:25-34) God has time for us. God has ALL the time we could ever need. God is not limited by time as we are and so he will never run out of time.
The picture of the potter’s wheel is a very good way to remember God’s care for us all throughout our lives. As so many things are, this picture is more than it appears to be at first glance; it is an encouragement, but it is also a caution. God is the Potter, and we are in his hands.

“And the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips but remove their hearts and minds far from Me, and their fear and reverence for Me are a commandment of men that is learned by repetition [without any thought as to the meaning], Therefore, behold! I will again do marvelous things with this people, marvelous and astonishing things; and the wisdom of their wise men will perish, and the understanding of their discerning men will vanish or be hidden. Woe to those who [seek to] hide deep from the Lord their counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, Who sees us? Who knows us? [Oh, your perversity!] You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be considered of no more account than the clay? Shall the thing that is made say of its maker, He did not make me; or the thing that is formed say of him who formed it, He has no understanding?” – ISAIAH 29:13-16 AMP

Echos of Eden


Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.

– Nothing Gold Can Stay, by Robert Frost

When spring rolls around every year, I find myself wanting a garden. Not just any garden will do, either. I want a magnificent Eden, full of the vast array and color spectrum contained in nature. I want plants to look at and plants to eat, preferably all of them beautifully arranged and accessible.  I can definitely relate to Tolkien’s Hobbits when they are described as loving all things that grow. There is just something so satisfying in watching things that you have planted grow from seeds into full maturity as plants or various kinds. My son once grew a single tomato plant from seed that was still growing,  producing and flowering at our 3500 ft elevation when we first started getting frost. (It was a Pompeii tomato, in case you were interested.) Gardening is interesting for all ages. Is it maybe because we began that way?

There are a lot of folksy sayings about when to plant this or that, how to tell if your garden is doing well, when to harvest, etc. Growing food, flowers, or any kind of plant really, just seems to be party of our basic nature. There is such a huge movement toward going green, getting back to nature, organic self-sustaining living, and on and on. At the same time that we are moving away from older ways of doing things and modernizing, it seems many people are realizing the wisdom of looking back to former generations’ wisdom and ways.

It seems to me that if we are realizing the wisdom of doing certain things for ourselves again because it worked well once and still works now, we might want to consider many of the other things that were once standard operating procedure. Things like loyalty, honesty, fairness, justice, and unselfishness might seem outdated or passe, but these values were once just the way things were. It was just the way people behaved. You could count on it like the sun rising in the morning. Perhaps, instead of bemoaning the cruelty and insane selfishness that seems to be the daily diet served up by the evening news, you can be someone who makes a difference for the better. Maybe, if we all lived our lives in parallel to another old-fashioned concept known as the Golden Rule, no matter what the color or preferences or beliefs of the people you encounter everyday whether in person or online (those online avatars represent actual people just like you and me, after all); maybe if we remembered that our ears were made to always be open, but our mouths can actually close from time to time (and should); maybe if we listened to our grandmothers and Thumper’s father “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all”; if we all acted the way we say we want everyone else to…..we would all live in a much happier world overall.

The next time you are tempted to think of something as “old-fashioned” and therefore no longer valid, remember that many of the things we are missing in this world were voted out, modernized, or made unpopular a little bit at a time, until we all learned the bittersweet lesson to be careful what we wish for. Sometimes we get it, and it is a good thing, true. Hand-in-hand with getting our way are the consequences of getting our way, however; and all the political filibustering and campaigning and white-washing and spin-doctoring in the world cannot make things different (in reality) than they actually are. Until we reach a day when “the former things are passed away”, we might just take a look backward from time to time at some of the tried-and-true and see what we’ve been missing.

At any rate, I went online and ordered more seed and plant catalogs than I can possibly use this season. We are in our own home at last, only renting, but nonetheless I want to be able to dream my Hobbity dreams and plan and imagine my perfect garden. I always daydream about a space MUCH bigger than the one I am actually able to use. I don’t ever accomplish the things I imagine, but I go on imagining all the same. Maybe a lot of us just need to find a place like Eden inside of our imaginations where we can go and walk when things get a little too modern and impersonal for comfort.

Thus says the Lord God: In the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities I will [also] cause [Israel’s] cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt. And the desolate land shall be tilled, that which had lain desolate in the sight of all who passed by. And they shall say, This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are fortified and inhabited. Then the nations that are left round about you shall know that I the Lord have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I the Lord have spoken it, and I will do it. – Ezekiel 36:33-36

 

 

Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold. Her early leaf’s a flower; But only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief, So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay. – See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19977#sthash.Wt06AMf6.dpuf

Marvelous Pigs in Satin


James: It’s like he said: Marvelous things will happen.

Glowworm: Did he say, “Marvelous pigs in satin”?

Grasshopper: No, dear lady.

[He takes out a megaphone and speaks through it]

Grasshopper: Marvelous things will happen!

(James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl)

As we travel down life’s road, we encounter situations that are many and varied. There is a lot of work involved. Sometimes the path is hot and dusty. Other times it is cold and windy. There are dark times, difficult times, long stretches where everything looks the same and it seems like we’re not making any progress. We wait, and wonder what the point is and why we’re here. We feel frustrated and lost and helpless…

However, that is not the entire book from cover to cover. There are other times, bright times, heartwarming, encouraging, sunny and marvelous. We have wide open spaces that appear along our path, glorious, roomy, and full of freshness. We can take in great breaths of air, take off our worn boots, wiggle our toes in the grass, squish them in the cool mud, and even bury them in hot sand. You can take off your weary pack, stretch your weary shoulders, fling wide your arms and draw the beautiful day into a soul embrace! Long have been the days of your travels, and toilsome. Your heart has been heavy, your mind confused. Bankrupt of all goodwill and generosity, you have shriveled in your heart, folded in upon yourself. Miserly have been your thoughts toward your fellow man. You were not made for this. Your heart was not fashioned for selfishness. Your mind was not created to only hold thoughts of self. For this reason, it is important to make full use of these times and allow your inner self to unfurl. Remember the caress of the soft breezes and the gentle whispers of love and value and ultimate endearment from the One who thought you worth the ultimate price, and paid it, and would again, and again in an instant. It is sufficient, however, that it was paid once and for all.

Now, as your wings unfurl, remember who you are, not a grasping, creeping thing, but a majestic, otherworldly being, with a resplendent soul. You have been washed, healed, and redeemed. You are in possession of knowledge so great that it can change a person from the inside out! Who are you, redeemed and beloved? What is your purpose? What will you do with this excellent and impossible love? Do you bury it? Do you keep it only for yourself? Why not instead open your heart to those struggling, creeping, suffering, despondent souls around you? Hold up the light for them so they, too, can exit that dark place to which you also once belonged. In this way, you carry the joy of the open spaces into the dungeons and shadows and cemeteries of life. You hold the power to free countless individuals, locked in the dark within their own souls. Knowing that such light and goodness exists, how can you not pass it along and extend a hand to a fellow traveler? The dark places of this world are made up of dark individuals and their dark deeds. Be a beacon that shows the way to the paths of peace.

“Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested and put in prison, He withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He went and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea, in the country of Zebulun and Naphtali– That what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be brought to pass: The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, in the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles [of the peoples who are not of Israel]– The people who sat (dwelt enveloped) in darkness have seen a great Light, and for those who sat in the land and shadow of death Light has dawned. From that time Jesus began to preach, crying out, Repent (change your mind for the better, heartily amend your ways, with abhorrence of your past sins), for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:12-17

One Brave Thing….


Cowardly Lion: Courage! What makes a king out of a slave? Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage! What makes the sphinx the seventh wonder? Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage! What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the “ape” in apricot? What have they got that I ain’t got?
Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman: Courage!
Cowardly Lion: You can say that again! Huh?

Today I did something brave. I applied for a job I really, really want. It’s a job that would be demanding, sometimes difficult, and very, very challenging. It seems too much to hope for, that I would get a job like this one; but the bottom line is, I really think it’s something I CAN DO.

Why are we so afraid to do the things we really want to? I’m not talking about let’s all run wild in the streets and eat nothing but candy (a fond dream of childhood). I’m talking about the wise, well-thought-out, desires of your heart kinds of things. If you want to write a letter to the President, or audition for the school play, or take on a special project at work, or volunteer for a literacy program, or donate to a charity, etc., etc., then why don’t you?

Life is full of things we HAVE TO do. We have to work and feed ourselves and our families somehow. So many times, though, we seem to settle for the HAVE-TOs and ignore the WANT-TOs. The result is that we remain alive without really living. The result is that we might get ahead financially, but our hearts are left behind.

Sometimes the only remedy is to do something very hard and very brave to break us out of our little brittle, boring, eggshell of a world. When we are finally able to work up the courage to do these very hard and brave things, we are reborn and the world is new to us. After all, once you’ve done what you thought was impossible, even if you’ve been unsuccessful, other things seem much less daunting. After the first brave thing, who’s to say, there won’t be another, and another, and another? (And there will be.)

We don’t have to do this all alone, of course. God is a big fan of the little guy. He loves situations that seem hopeless, and people that are overlooked. (Remember King David as a boy?) The tougher the situation, and the lowlier the person, the greater is the triumph when God has helped us to plant our flag on the mountain top! Just remember that the next time you are facing a giant that might as well be a mountain or a whole universe of giants lined up against you. The road that God has laid out for you runs THROUGH those mountains, not back the other way!

 Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm —
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.