Mud. Kids love it. They are drawn to mud like hungry mosquitoes to bare arms and legs. Children may not share cookies, but fresh mud is the gift they keep on giving – to the walls, carpet, furniture, and especially the car seats.
Moms mostly hate mud. Until the little one digs some clay, hand-mixes it with puddle water, and molds a masterpiece. That sun-baked pot with its imperfections moves to a place of honor on the what-not shelf. The tiny vessel remains long after the child is grown and refreshes the happy memory in Mom’s heart each time she dusts.
At state fairs and craft shows potters and their displays are popular with spectators who stand mesmerized as wet clay spins and the artisan’s skilled fingers work their magic. Making beautiful and useful containers from mud is upcycling at its best, and the idea resonates with stewards of the environment.
Spiritual analogies drawn from the image of a potter turning the wheel to shape clay have challenged seekers for centuries. Two major Jewish prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah, used this picture in their writings. Isaiah viewed the interaction between the potter and clay as a ready lesson on the foolishness of arguing with God.
…Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay, That what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”; Or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?
Isaiah 29:16 NASB Selected
“Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker– An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’…”
Isaiah 45:9 NASB Selected
God gave Jeremiah an assignment to watch the potter at work. Here’s what the prophet took away.
The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD saying, “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will announce My words to you.” Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make. Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.”
Jeremiah 18:1-6 NASB
Potters use specific terms to describe the stages of their process.
- Wedge – The potter slices and slams the clay to force out the air bubbles. He kneads the moist clay repeatedly to create a workable mixture.
- Throw – When the clay mixture is ready the potter plops the blob on the spinning wheel.
- Center – The mass of the clay must be balanced at the center of the wheel before shaping begins.
- Master – The clay is worked until it becomes responsive to the potter’s touch
Pottery is a contact sport. Clay resists becoming a masterpiece and prefers to remain an indistinguishable blob. Clay must be broken before the master’s hands can change its form. Often the potter destroys a project mid-process, and begins anew. As the clay resists change the potter applies more force to transform the mud into a functional vessel.
We get it. God is the Potter, and we are the clay. From one lump of clay to another, how’s that going?