Life Lessons from the Potter’s Wheel #2
Centering clay on the potter’s wheel is a great metaphor for life, and can help us in our search for inner peace. It’s the foundation upon which a pot is formed, and can also be the foundation of our life.
In Lesson #1 we looked at The Potter — How to Find Meaning & Purpose; the effect that being made in God’s image has on our life, well-being, and creativity. The prophet Isaiah puts it like this:
Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. (Isaiah 64:8 NIV)
So you have a ball of clay in your hand and the wheel is before you. Your task now is to throw the clay down onto the wheel as close to the center as possible. Then you have a hemisphere of clay stuck to the wheel. You press the peddle and the wheel turns. Immediately you see the clay gyrate and shake before your eyes; moving from side to side; up and down. This is because no matter how careful you are when you aim the clay, you can never get it “bang on” center, and even if you did, the clay itself is not perfectly round.
Next you need water, plenty of water, to act as a lubricant between your hands and the clay. Cup some water in your hands and pour it onto the clay as it turns. Now you are ready for the part of the process that many new potters find hardest to do, now you are ready to center the clay.
Centering the Clay
Centering is the process by which you take a rough, off-center lump of clay and turn it into a shape whose center sits perfectly on the center of the wheel, has a perfectly round profile, is ready to be formed, and is full of potential.
So to center the clay, you bring your hands into contact with it, and immediately you feel its distress. Vibration enters your body. It starts at your hands and travels up your arms. The more firmly you try to hold the clay, the greater the vibration becomes.
At first your hands follow the clay, but then you start to apply some force, well not so much force, as rigidity to your hands. You want the clay to follow your hands, rather than your hands follow the clay. The clay pushes back, it wants to stay where it is, “thank you very much”. So now you lean in slightly, and push your elbows into your ribs so that your whole body adds strength to your arms.
Now you feel the clay start to yield, the alternating forces, that were resisting you, start to reduce. You watch the clay move. You move your hands, pushing down onto the wheel, so that the clay starts to form a low cylinder. You keep pushing and then suddenly you feel it — perfect calm, no more fighting, the clay is centered, the clay feels at peace.
Slowly you release the tension in your arms, and very slowly you move your hands away from the clay, because you know that any sudden movement at this stage will disturb the clay and send it off-center again.
If the clay is not centered on the wheel, then it drastically impacts what it can become. The vessel created will have walls of uneven thickness and height, which not only limit the delicacy of the pot, but also potentially cause it to crack or distort later in the process. So being truly centered makes a huge difference to what the clay can become, and it makes a huge difference to our lives as well. But where is the true center of our lives, and how do we find it? What a tragedy it would be to spend your whole life climbing the ladder, only to realize, when you get near the top, that it was the wrong ladder. This is where our worldview and what we believe about life’s big questions come into play.
Christianity reveals that there is an utterly amazing and wonderful center, not just for our lives, but for “Life, the Universe and Everything” (as the title to the third book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams, goes). The apostle Paul described this center for the first Christians like this:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15–17 NIV)
Here Paul is making the staggering claim that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe; that he is the reality behind all reality, the cause behind every cause. Paul uses the phrase “all things” four times, and by “all things” he means all created things, not just the visible and physical but also the invisible and spiritual. He claims that:
- The Lord Jesus created all things
- All things were created through him
- All things were created for him
- He is before all things — in pre-eminence as well as time
- In him all things hold together — are established and make sense
If this is true, then surely, we have found the center of all things, and this center is not an idea, or a philosophy, or a way of living, but a person.
In an earlier version of the NIV Bible translation, verse 16 was translated as “all things were created by him and for him”, and some years ago that phrase struck me as absolutely fundamental to life in general and the Christian life in particular. As an engineer I’ve always admired the ability to sum up complex ideas, and great truth, in a few words. It seemed to me then that these five words, “by him and for him”, could sum up a life lived in tune with the purpose of all existence; a life lived for the glory of God. And so, I took these words as a kind of compass heading for my life, a constant prayer to God along these lines:
‘Heavenly Father, please help me to live today, “by him and for him”. To do all things in the strength that you give by your Holy Spirit, and to do all things for our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, to please him and honor him.’
So having found the true center of all things, we can begin to move our lives towards that center by moving in the direction of “by him and for him”. But what does that really mean?
It’s All About Him
“By him and for him”, is an amazing truth that can set us free, but it is a truth that can be hard for our generation to accept, because it means coming to the understanding that life does not revolve around me, and my desires; it means realizing that it’s not about me, it’s all about him, my Lord, my savior, my shepherd, Jesus Christ.
Even as believers in Christ, we can somehow get the impression that God follows us, to blesses us, but that would be like the potter’s hands following the clay, that way the clay would never be centered. No, our part is to yield our lives to our Lord and savior, and follow him. The Christian life is not about following a new set of rules, it is about following a person, loving him and wanting to please him. It is about, and this is the key, placing our trust in Jesus Christ, not based on a step of “blind faith”, but based on clear evidence of his amazing love for us:
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 NIV)
We can all be controlled by many things, the desire for: money; approval; love; control… In my case, my motivations were strongly influenced by two desires: the desire for people to like me; and the desire to win. Yes I was more than a little conflicted at times. Making my aim to live “by him and for him”, has radically changed my motivations, so that now I am writing this article for Jesus Christ, in the hope that it will shine a light on how wonderful he is, and help others find inner peace. Do the embers of wanting people to like me, and wanting to win, still glow? Yes they do, but as I travel in the direction of “by him and for him”, I think they are glowing less.
I mentioned earlier about that magical moment of peace, when the clay becomes centered. In the same way, as we center our lives upon Jesus, so the peace of God comes upon us. If we insist on building our lives away from the one who is the center of all things, then don’t be surprised if peace is hard to find. We can center our lives on good things like career, family, and even Church, but they will never be all that they could be, and we will never be all that we could be, if we have not centered our lives upon Jesus, and nurtured our relationship with him. Being the true center of all things, he is the only one who can put everything in its true place, and from him flow blessing and peace. It is never too late to seek the true center.
Even as followers of Jesus we can lose our peace. Like the clay that is knocked off-center: distress, pain, anxiety, sickness, and suffering can enter our lives as we walk through the dark valley. When lock-down started due to the coronavirus, and the future seemed very uncertain, a scripture came to mind that I memorized so long ago that it is from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible:
Thou dost keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusts in thee. (Isaiah 26:3 RSV)
As we turn our eyes again towards Jesus, the true center of our lives, and walk again in the direction of “by him and for him”, so perfect peace returns. The circumstances around us may not change, but our steps suddenly seem lighter, our burden suddenly seems easier, because we remember:
… that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation [including COVID-19], will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38,39 NIV)
Is it time to re-center your life?
The next Lesson from the Potter’s Wheel is:
Lesson #3: Opening — How to Build a Good Foundation
Originally published on: Medium