He stepped into the sunlight and out of the shade of the temple, his place of work, his place of calling. Away from the altar and the incense and the scrolls and the singing of psalms. Away from the regular, the familiar.
He walked down one of the narrow streets then hesitated for a moment before entering the potter’s shed. His senses were overwhelmed. First the smell of wet clay. Then the sound of the wheel turning. He saw the bowl of water, the liquid clay on the hands. As he sat quietly, slowly he noticed the effort involved in keeping the clay in place on the wheel and the subtlety of touch by different parts of the hand. He began to understand the testing of the potter’s creativity. The accuracy. The love.
Did he go next to the painter mixing paints or the weaver spinning a tapestry or a carpenter building a table? Each had their own particular sounds and smells and colours. And each with the presence and personality of those making and creating. Each creation taking on more shape and form as the minutes and hours go by and yes perhaps, here and there, the odd correction and adjustment as they worked with their material.
Maybe Jeremiah sat with the musicians as they tested new chord progressions, tried out different phrasing, hummed new words till a new song fitted together and came to life.
He would have taken something fresh, learnt something different from each. I wonder how the experience changed him as a priest?
Sit somewhere different
How often do we step out from our familiar places? What would we learn if we went to a different church one Sunday or went to the early service rather than the late one? What if we read the Bible in a translation that we’re not used to? Or if we drank white instead of red? What if we had coffee after the service with someone we don’t normally speak to? What if we parted our hair to the left instead of the right or took a different route into work? Or what if we sat at the front and not the back?… Perhaps we need to sit somewhere different?…
Moulding and shaping
The Bible describes God in many ways. It has to. Our language, our words, our thoughts, are inadequate. God’s a teacher, a ruler, a judge. He’s a father, a mother, a lover. Here he’s an artist and an artisan.
He’s that way in the beginning as well. In Genesis he shapes and moulds us from clay and breathes us into being. We’re connected to the earth and animated by his breath.
And it’s not a once and for all process… Jeremiah learns, and so do we, that it’s continual, this moulding and reshaping of us.
But being malleable, means we can be influenced by bad as well as good. By abuse, ambition, temptation, by the company we keep. But our free-will means we can be resilient too and capable of astonishing goodness and kindness.
What shapes you and me?
On the shelf?
Of course, every metaphor, simile and analogy breaks-down at some point.
Afterall, until it’s fired and glazed the vessel made of clay isn’t useful! Its very plasticity makes it unable to do a job, to perform a task. Once it’s fired and glazed it’s then a pot, or a mug, or a jug. It can’t be changed – but it can be used.
What are you being used for?
The risk is that if needs change then the pot or the mug or the jug, once useful, now just sits on a shelf gathering dust.
And this might be uncomfortable but is that true of us as individuals or as a community, as a church?… Are we, once useful, now gathering dust?
If we were writing this passage now, then maybe a better image is something made of glass rather than clay. Once made and put to use – and needs have changed – then something of glass can be recycled. It can be melted down and turned again into something newly useful.
But for now, let’s stick with the pottery. And let’s remember wabi sabi… If we break, then we’re not thrown away but transformed into something of beauty. With God’s skill and artistry and loving creativity, our very weakness becomes a strength, the very cracks become the most attractive part. Amen
‘Sit somewhere different’ was given by Ian Banks at a Sunday@Seven service at St John with St Mark, Bury on Sunday 23rd February 2020. It’s based on Jeremiah 18:1-6. For more by Ian please go to the Archive. Click here for more on wabi sabi…