The Vase

“But now, O Lord, You are our Father,

We are the clay, and You our potter;

And all of us are the work of Your hand.”

(Isaiah 64:8)

The sun bounced off the surface of the lake, painting the water in a kaleidoscope of colors; in the distance, a bright green field; the cool fall afternoon alive with creative energy. Concealed at the bottom of the stone-stacked staircase, a studio—isolated, quiet—faced the lake and the field. The studio doors were ajar, revealing glimpses of the potter’s wheel, the stool, and the clay. Excitement raced through my body, like a car at the speedway. What would I make? The list was endless: a plate, a bowl, a dish…no, a vase! I joined the huddle of other eager potters-in-the-making to watch the instructor slowly demonstrate the use of the pottery wheel.

I was led to my station. The wheel was lower and smaller than I had envisioned. It was nothing more than a flat disc resting in a tub, which was really a splash guard. On the ground, a pedal was tethered by a cord to the wheel. A tall stool sat nearby, and a small work table held all the tools: a sponge, a basin of water, a needle, a wooden knife, and a cutting wire. I sat down and straddled the wheel, my thighs opening to embrace it, knees pressed in tightly, my pelvis high. I pushed my right foot forward until I found the pedal, and I rested my foot upon it. I pressed down on the pedal as if it was an accelerator; the wheel spun like a gig let loose. I let my foot up; the wheel slowed.

On the small work table, my lump of clay waited. I reached for it. It was dark, cool to the touch, dry and not moist. The clay was shaped into a ball and carried the aroma of earth. With resolve, I grabbed the clay and slapped it down hard on the wheel. Thwack!

Leaning forward and tucking in my elbows, I lay my left palm, then my right, on the clay ball, applying the full strength of upper my body to the task at hand. I pushed down, the clay moving around my fingers as a stream moves around rocks in its path. Using my right hand, I reached into the nearby tub of water, scooped up all that I could hold, and poured it onto my clay, which became silky, smooth, soft, and pliable. I slowly pressed the pedal, and the wheel began to spin faster. I clasped the clay using all my strength, flesh and earth and water becoming one. I scooped up more water and poured it on the clay. Using just enough pressure on the ball, I gently guided it to the center of the disc and removed my hands. The clay was centered on the wheel, and the vase inside it was beckoning.

Using my muddy hands, I formed the clay. With the wheel spinning, I made a hole in the center of the clay by extending my index and middle fingers. As the wheel spun around and around, the hole became bigger, the inside of the vase revealing itself. Slowly, I began to use the other fingers of my hands to expand the hole; the vase was taking shape.

I shifted my hands so that my right palm faced my left and sandwiched the clay. With the wheel still spinning, I moved my hands upward, making the clay form taller and taller. Every full turn of the wheel combined with the upward movement of my hands brought the vase into sharper relief until it finally had its shape. I reached for the knife on the small table trimmed the edges of the vase, like a butcher removing fat from meat. Using a sponge, I smoothed the outside of the vessel to create a fresh canvas upon which I drew designs using a needle. With my index fingers and my thumbs, I squeezed the neck of the vase, almost as if I was strangling it delicately, until it narrowed into a smaller opening. At last, I removed my foot from the pedal; the wheel came to a stop.

The result… a beautiful vase!