Have you ever worked with clay or played with playdough? I don’t mean to imply anything by saying you work with one and play with the other. I feel confident that there’s a certain amount of play involved in the art of clay, just as there’s some work involved in playdough (there certainly is if you make it at home from scratch). And, by the way, they’re also not for any particular age group. Adults and children alike can enjoy both. If you haven’t, you should try it.
In the Bible, the prophet Jeremiah says that God spoke to him and gave him the metaphor of the potter’s wheel for how God can be in our lives: we are the clay, God is the potter who molds and shapes us.
There can be a negative side to that image, of course, one of manipulation and control, but I don’t believe that’s what Jeremiah means. I think he sees God as the great artisan in creation. He knows that with God in our lives, we are not only created as wonderful things, but are capable of creating wonderful things.
As any good artist knows, the medium has a part to play in the creation. Work some playdough or play with some clay, you’ll see.
So, if, as Jeremiah suggests, we are like the clay, then what kind of clay are we? Hard as a rock, unchanging and unmoveable? Or so fluid and easy going that we never take a single form? Or are we firm enough to stand, but ready to be molded, open to being made into something?
Or, from another perspective, creating something ourselves. Perhaps, made in the image of God, we might see ourselves, not just as the clay, but the artisan. After all, we live in relationship with each other and we have a responsibility to be creators, teachers and inspirers of others, as much as we need to be open to receiving what other “artists” have to offer us.
I’m particularly mindful of that right now, because it’s back to school time. As the summer winds down, it’s time to head to school, some for the first time, some sophomores, some wily veterans of the elementary grades, and a few grizzled grade twelves, hunkering down for one more year.
There’s the look of excitement and wonder, some anxiety and a little bit of fear. On teachers’ faces, too. And parents’.
What an awesome responsibility to have, the “moulding of young minds.” You have to thank school teachers for that, you really do. But I also hope that we all think it’s an awesome responsibility, because it’s not just school teachers that have it, is it? We are all teachers, mentors, guides and leaders, each in our own way. It’s part of being community.
Play with some playdough (or real clay, if you can). You don’t have to be a professional artisan to make something. Didn’t you make an “ashtray” or a “bowl” in school when you were young? Wonder about how often we are like the clay and how often we are like the hands that form it. And wonder about when that clay is our hearts or our minds or our spirits. And wonder, too, about how often, as the clay, we might not just need to be open to God’s hands, but how often we might seek God’s hands and need God’s hands in our lives, created and creating. How do you think you’re formed?