Throw Your Life Away: Be a Potter!


My good friend and father of a master potter, Willie Teague, blessed me this past weekend with the gift of a book with the simple inscription, “I saw this and thought of you. Peace, Willie.” The book’s title is The Soulwork of Clay: A Hands-on Approach to Spirituality. The author is Marjorey Zoet Bankson. It speaks to my head and heart. It is wonderful. It articulates long unexpressed feelings I have about clay and my heritage.

Many of you know about my Edgefield County, SC roots, American-Indian and clay-loving forebears. Some of you know that I love giving things away, a habit that I thought was a legacy of my parents, and they are deeply on my mind these past days. Daddy died 10 years ago this week and Mother’s birthday is July 20 and has been dead 17 years. But, they’re alive you see! Not just in God’s embrace, but in their loving family’s actions. Especially as I think of American-Indian Give-Away’s, potlatches.

I never tied the two together, but it’s in my brothers and my DNA to give things away. You may want to read Thom Whitewolf-Fasset’s Giving Our Hearts Away to better understand the concept that the one who gives away the most is in harmony with all creation. At potlatches and give-aways at funerals, graduations, birthdays, etc. families give things away not receive them. It brings honor to be a giver. Anyway, I come from a long line of givers and maybe it’s the Indian in us. Every Christmas I give each of my clergy a pottery gift that I’ve made. I make pots for all of the cabinet and everyone in the UM Center. Every year it’s a different theme, and last year I also made jewelry for all the women by doing glass fusing and using my kiln.

But, back to clay and the kinetic dance that I feel from my fingers to my very soul. Throwing clay and shaping a vessel stirs my spirit. I’m too often a guy who seems to be living in and out of his head instead of being in touch with feelings. Well, feeling clay reconnects my mind and spirit. It grounds me and gives me joy. Marjorey Bankson puts it this way, “Now as the ecological crisis looms in many forms, I feel a new urgency for finding ways that we can rediscover how much we love the earth itself. I believe this is the path for recovering our humanity, our sense of community with each other, and communion with all living things, especially air and water. While some people go on a vision quest or a wilderness journey to reclaim this elemental sense of connection, I believe that working with clay can do the same thing at home.” Amen.

It makes me think of how each of us is made in God’s image and create from the dust/mud of the earth. Clay-throwing brings together earth, wind, water, and fire. It is as whole an experience of being/acting in God’s image as I can imagine. The excitement as I write these words is indicative of the sheer pleasure of it, and it reminds me how much Jesus takes pleasure incarnationally in the mud of our lives. I can see him laughing as He works with us, kneading, loving, warming up the clay of our lives; opening us up to grace in the spinning of our lives; baptizing us with the Spirit’s water taking the friction out of our existence; shaping us into a useful vessel; trimming away the excess we don’t need; decorating us in unique ways; allowing the wind to blow on us preparing us for the fire of the kiln; glazing us with beauty to make us strong and vibrant.

Well, I thank Willie for the book and this respite in a hectic day to imagine myself back at the district parsonage at my wheel shaping a tall jug and sgrafittoing a SC palmetto on the side of a leatherhard piece. Examples of the end result of my work are seen in the photo above. The therapy, the reunion of body and spirit. It is good. It’s even better to give it away!

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