The hymn, “Have Thine Own Way, Lord”, by Adelaide A. Pollard (words) and George Stebbins (music) is one of those hymns. The stanza that has shape my life and faith has these words: “Have thine own way Lord, have thine own way. Thou art the potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me, after thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.”
The potter/clay image is based on the words of Isaiah 64:8, “But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.”
From working with clay in Sunday School, to reflective Bible Studies, to revival services, these words have reached deep into my soul; expressing my desire to be used by God.
Until recently, my potter/clay image has been a warm and fuzzy one. God happily sits at the potter’s wheel, mud stained apron, hands covered with wet clay, patiently turning the wheel, and shaping the clay. Transposing that to God working in my life, it was like something fragile being gently guided along a conveyor belt as it is made, and prepared for shipping. The ceramic outcome of working with clay is beautiful and valued.
I visited a ceramics factory in Italy and was allowed (volunteered) to “throw some mud” with a professional potter. I learned 3 things in the space of about 15 minutes that changed my understanding and appreciation of what is involved for God to be a potter in my life and for that matter, in anybody’s life.
First, the clay begins as grayish, blocks or tubes. The ones on top squash the pieces on the bottom of the pallet. It just sits until the potter begins. It cannot mold or shape itself. It is subject to laws of physics both as it sits, and as it spins on the wheel. Gravity and centrifugal forces make it want to move one way, but the pressure of the potter’s hand keeps it in line. It even depends on the potter to keep it moist so it remains soft and pliable. Otherwise, it hardens and is no good. Without the potter it will never become the beautiful ceramic that the potter envisions.
Second, I learned that a potter’s work is physically demanding, requiring constant focused concentration. Pottery making is multi-tasking. Beginning with a vision for the outcome, the potter keeps the wheel rotating at the right speed, keeps the clay centered, uses one hand for constant pressure while using the other to shape the clay, keeps the clay moist and soft and shapes it as it is moving. Pottery making fully uses arm, shoulder and core muscles. If the clay gets out of shape, the potter simply pushes it down in order to raise it up. It has to be just right. It is neither simple nor easy being a potter. It takes hard work and persistence.
Third, the critical part of the process involves being fired in the kiln at high temperatures so that the soft clay hardens and is prepared for decorating. The heat removes any moisture and melts minerals to form a hardened coating. Processes for glazing can be applied, sealing the pottery.
So what does the imagery of pottery and clay say about God and us?
- Just as a potter has a vision for the clay, and works the clay towards that vision, God has a vision, a plan for our lives and wants to work in and through us to help us become the people we were meant to be. At a seminar years ago, Rev. Lloyd Ogilvie shared a comment he received from a senior member of his church. She said, “I hope you become everything you were in the mind of God when God first thought of you.”
- Even though I think I am in control of my life, I’m not. My cancer diagnosis in ’07 brought that home to me. Like, clay, I am helpless to become what God wants me to be without God’s hand working in my life. I can’t do it on my own.
- Sometimes God’s work in my life is painful. I resist. God exerts pressure. I may hold the new shape briefly, then start to wobble, becoming misshaped. God removes pieces of clay that don’t belong there. Often I don’t want them to go. God adds pieces that I don’t want, but need. God doesn’t give up. God keeps on shaping and molding. God never loses his vision for me.
- Clay cannot become beautiful ceramics without the kiln. I’ve been in the kilns of life experience more than once. Unlike human potters who do not go into the kiln with their pottery, God is with me in the kiln, guiding the searing experiences of life as they forge a stronger faith.
In this imagery I see the tenacity of God, the redeeming power of God, the purposes of God, the grace of God, the love of God, the vision of God, the desire of God to restore us and renew us, my need of God, and the fact that when necessary, God will take me down in order to lift me up.
And “No, the finished ceramics pictured here are not mine. Mine never made it to the kiln. ;-)