This past week Sarah, Brittany and I traveled to Cartagena for our final retreat of the year. We spent the week exploring the old city, snorkeling in the Islas del Rosario, visiting the Presbyterian church of Cartagena, and reflecting on the past year and preparing for the transition home (you can see pictures from the week here). On our first night Sarah led us in our opening worship. After reading from Jeremiah 18, she gave us each a small piece of clay, to shape into a vessel that represents how God is shaping us.
Being a sculptor and potter, I began to think about the process of making a pot on a pottery wheel, specifically the first steps. To begin, the potter has to center the clay on the wheel. This is perhaps the most difficult step for beginners. As the clay spins, the potter places their hands on the top and the side, and applies pressure to smooth it and create a perfectly round cylinder of clay, exactly in the center of the wheel. Inexperienced potters find it very hard to tell the difference between perfectly centered and slightly off, and even more difficult to get rid of the last little wobbles. This leads to many either thinking it’s centered when it’s not, or getting frustrated and continuing with un-centered clay on purpose, which causes problems later on.
But once the clay is perfectly centered, the potter can begin to open the pot by pressing on finger down in the exact center, and gently pulling towards themselves. Sometimes during this step the pot will be thrown off center again by an air bubble or other flaw in the clay that hasn’t be found yet, and the potter must pause and fix it. If it’s off even a little bit, the final pot will be lopsided. At this stage in the process the pot doesn’t look like much, basically just a very thick, low bowl, but from here the potter can create anything. And without the work that has gone into it up to this point, there is no pot.
As I considered this process, I thought about where I was. At first I thought I might still be in the first step, still a little wobbly, resisting letting myself be perfectly centered on God. But then I realized what this year, and the previous two years of seminary, have been: the opening. My seminary experience (which I consider my YAV year to be an extension of) has been about opening me up, in preparation to be shaped into the vessel best suited to fulfill my call. There have been times when I’ve been knocked off center, but God keeps patiently smoothing me out, and continuing on.
I also realized that this step isn’t over yet. Thankfully I have another year of seminary as God lays the foundations for whatever it is I will become. Looking at the tiny version of a partially completed pot that I had created from green modeling clay, I thought, I sure don’t look like much. Just as to the untrained eye it appears that the potter has done barely anything at this stage, to someone who doesn’t know me it appears I am too young, inexperienced, and naïve to do the work God has called me to do. But I know the work that God has done and is doing in my life. I trust that God is preparing me, as only God can do. Because without these first steps, the clay will never be a masterpiece.