“Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter; we are all the work of your hands.” (Isaiah 64:7)
At the university where I went to grad school, there is a pottery studio. No mere hangout of artsy undergrads, this is a place of pure creation.
Until I crossed its dusty doorstep and breathed in the deep smell of clay, I never imagined how the work of a potter’s hands could be theological, philosophical, intellectual. But the master and his apprentices have devoted themselves to an art that springs from the heart of the university and the abbey. Theirs is a craft that comes from deep within the land: the clay hidden within the hills, the water that flows deep underground, the wood from surrounding forests that stokes the kiln’s roaring fires.
The few times that I’ve been privileged to watch the potter at his wheel, I marvel at his intense concentration on the clay taking shape beneath his fingers. His hands instinctively know how to bend and curve to produce the cup or bowl or plate he desires. But as he works, he speaks with reverence of honoring the materials and the process by which pottery is created. He honors the life within the art, the freedom of the clay itself to become what it can be, the beauty it can call forth from within the potter.
Isaiah calls God father and potter. Yet the connection between parent and artist is not always immediate. Yes, the raw material of the child is placed in our hands and given to us to mold. But we were not apprenticed in this demanding work; nothing prepares us for this all-consuming call. Yes, the work is less certain science and more attempted art. But it is not always beautiful and attractive; it reveals our darkest sides and our deepest flaws.
Sometimes these words of Isaiah seem too easy: we are passive clay and God is active potter; we lie waiting on the wheel for God to shape our lives. What I forget when I breeze over this image is that God as father is like God as potter: blessing the creation, honoring its freedom, celebrating its unique beauty. There is a gentleness to God’s hands, a loving working on our lives. We are works in process, always spinning round the wheel.
Our work as mothers and fathers is earthy and embodied like the potter’s. The wisdom that guides us is found deep within, even when we struggle to let it shape us. Perhaps this image of God as parent and potter can invite us to see our parenting as art, to see our children as works in process. In this Advent season of preparing, how can we give ourselves into God’s hands to be softened and smoothed into the people we hope to be?