Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Potter's House: The Story of Clay and The Wheel

“Come on in,” invited Sage Conrad, a renowned potter in Charleston, South Carolina, who was also known for her studio called The Wheel. “Class today will focus on wheel throwing,” she explained as a handful of students entered her studio’s front door on the June morning.

As legend had it, anyone who was a student of Sage’s was sure to experience a miracle, not like a hokey, made-up one, but a deep, mystical encounter that caused the person to change from the inside out. Like most mornings, her longtime friend Alfred Odin sat in the back of the studio, reshaping the clay on his wheel. 

“I just can’t get it right,” the gray-haired man moaned. “Sage, I know you think that your new students are here for life lessons, and you have something to teach them, and they have something to teach you. I don’t want to hear it. I really don’t.”

“God bless you, Alfie,” she laughed, kissing him on the cheek. She fixed her curly dark hair and adjusted her glasses as she put on her quilted apron. “Is your rosary still hidden in your pocket? For someone who loves to curse God, you have a funny way of always carrying a cross in your pocket just in case He might be watching you. Will you ever learn?” she asked, shaking her head.

“You don’t have to tell everyone my secrets,” Alfie snapped, slamming the clay onto the center of the wheel head. As his rosary stuck out of his pocket, he used his fingers to open the clay. 

Since his bowl was a bit lopsided, he started over again, kneading the clay like dough. 

“O Lord, You are our Father, we are the clay, and You our potter; and all of us are the work of Your hand,” Sage read from the hand-carved sign at the front of her class, quoting Isaiah 64:8. “The first major question is what will you allow God’s hands to make of your life? Are you workable? The second major question is what will you make with your own hands? And why?”

“Jesus help me, I have heard this speech so many times,” Alfie mumbled, reforming the walls of his piece, which was starting to resemble a small, crooked bowl. “Next, she will talk about being a willing vessel for the purposes of the Lord. If I have to hear this one more time . . .”

“Before we begin, we need to stand up and sing praise,” Sage instructed. “Everyone on your feet! If you don’t know the words to ‘Have Thine Own Way, Lord,’ they are on the blackboard. Just sing along, even if you don’t know the tune,” she gestured, pointing to four verses of lyrics.

“Have Thine own way, Lord, have Thine own way; Thou art the Potter, I am the clay,” Alfie crooned, wearily conducting from the back of the room as the class sang off- key. He stammered under his breath: “My favorite song of all time.”

“Now, today, I am going to teach you the basics of making pottery on a wheel,” Sage announced to the students as they sat down. Several broken and cracked pieces of pottery sat on a windowsill at the front of the class as light shone through them. “By the time we are finished, I want to hear what you made and why. I’m hoping that you are an open and willing vessel for the Lord, even with your cracks. There’s nothing better that you could be in the whole wide world!”

“I didn’t know that we had signed up for a church class,” one of the adult students whispered. 

“Hush, Wilbur, she’s the best potter in the state,” his wife, Minerva, insisted. “Look at her pottery on the shelves, even the broken ones are magnificent. I’ve never seen such beautiful and elegant pieces.”

Meanwhile, a group of teenagers were taking notes, wanting to mold their clay into greatness.

“I think she’s making a lot of good points,” one of the girls whispered to the others.

“I’m doing this for you, Minerva, because I love you,” Wilbur stated, making the teenagers giggle. His wife shook her head. “I’m not an artist.”

“Did I hear you say that you’re not an artist?” Sage eavesdropped. 

"Yes, ma'am," Wilbur stated. "Art is not for everyone."

“Your thoughts are mighty strong, and if you speak negativity, that’s all you’ll get. You are an artist. You’ve already been at the wheel of your life. How’s it been going?”

“His mistake,” Alfie sighed, rolling his eyes. “He should’ve known better than to argue!”

“It’s going even better since I walked into your studio this morning,” Wilbur assured Sage. 

“So glad to hear that! The first thing you’re going to learn is his how to take a lump of clay and make it into a ball,” Sage taught. “First, you must prepare the clay, just like God prepares you.”

“God prepares you,” Alfie quipped, giving up for the morning. “The clay can’t be too wet or too dry, and you can’t have bubbles, or you might explode when He bakes you in the furnace.”

“Even if the clay has been used before, it can be made workable again,” Sage nodded at Alfie. “God is always working and reworking at His wheel, as it seems good for Him to do.”

Much of the class listened to Sage in awe, realizing that she had a higher awareness than most of them during their daily lives, yet it seemed they were soft enough to be molded by her. 

“God is going to make something great out of you yet, Alfie,” Sage joked, looking at his latest creation with a critical eye. “He might have to break you first, if you won’t bend, but He will get his way. He loves you too much to leave you in your current condition, and so do I.”

“She’s been in love with me since we were teenagers,” Alfie blurted, interrupting her class on the way out the door. “She could never admit how much she loved me. Her vessel has a few cracks!”

“It took a lot of molding, but the Lord brought me this far, didn’t He Alfie?” Sage smiled, sitting down in front of a treadle wheel to teach the class her techniques firsthand. “On the contrary, Alfie is so stubborn and hard-headed that sometimes he misses the blessing as a crackpot!”

Despite the spat between Sage and Alfie, the students crafted their clay jars with care. 

By the end of the day, the pupils had each made some sort of earthen vessel, ready for the first firing of the kiln, and then the glazing, and then firing their handiwork for the second time. 

“I receive whoever the Lord sends me,” Sage explained as the students departed for the day. “Now, every time you look at your finished creation, you can remember that you are a willing vessel. What stories I have from students over the years! It has been no greater honor than to be clay in the hands of the Potter. Who knows what miracles you will now experience!” 


Copyright 2023 Jennifer Waters

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