But as for you, O LORD, you are our Father; and we are clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hands.
Recently, it has been a delight to welcome guests back into Urban, which is the space in the City Centre building for people who want to develop their talents, learn new skills and prepare themselves for employment. One of our volunteers, a recent graduate of Glasgow School of Art, has been offering one-to-one pottery classes for guests. Under the gentle and patient supervision of the tutor, guests learn how to make something that is both useful and beautiful, out of a messy lump of clay. The pot is thrown on the wheel, then fired in the kiln, then glazed, then fired again. A work of art, highly personal to the maker, is created!
Various biblical passages speak about pottery. Ceramic dishes and vessels were part of everyday life and it was natural that the writers should see them as metaphors for their lives. For example, Isaiah 64:8 sees God as the potter and we, his children, as the clay. God moulds us and shapes us, making us into the kind of people he wants, to be used for his purposes. The same idea is found in Jeremiah 18:1-10. The prophet watches the potter at work and is reminded that God has ultimate power and authority over what he creates.
Now, pottery can be useful and beautiful, but it is also very breakable. In Psalm 31, the writer uses this idea to describe how he is feeling. He asks God to be merciful to him for he is really struggling; he is going through really difficult times. He is full of grief and anxiety, and he feels physically weak and abandoned. He writes,
I am the utter contempt of my neighbours
and an object of dread to my closest friends—
those who see me on the street flee from me.
I am forgotten as though I were dead;
I have become like broken pottery.
The writer feels worthless. What use is a broken pot? For many of our guests, these words are deeply resonant. They describe exactly what they feel. Many are full of fear. Many are full of grief for all that they have lost in life. Many feel worthless and useless, feeling that God has thrown them away or is threatening to do so. But of course, in scripture, the message of Jesus Christ is redemption. God does not throw us away. He reaches out to us and wants to restore us. As we work with our guests, we often use the image of kintsugi pottery to help them see how God can transform broken lives into something that is beautiful. Kintsugi is a Japanese tradition of mending broken pottery with gold or silver. The pot, which was considered worthless, becomes not only useful again, but much more beautiful than it was in the first place! What a wonderful metaphor for God’s loving power of restoration! Praise God, the one who moulds us and creates us, that in his infinite wisdom, our human brokenness is not given the last word.
Marion LS Carson