Thursday, January 9, 2020

"bend me, shape me..."

"bend me
shape me,
anyway You want me,
long as You love me,
it's alright..."

The chorus from The American Breed's 1968 hit, "Bend Me, Shape Me,"   was what came to me this morning, as I thought about my return last night to the warm cocoon of the pottery studio.

I had already spent an hour at the studio, before dinner and church -- letting a couple of vessels find their form in my hands. So, there really wasn't a reason to return. But on my way home from church -- through the dark, cold, streets of our empty mid-winter mountain town -- I felt drawn to that space again.

It was exactly where I needed to be. There is a peace there, one that is holy for me. The kiln was running, the room was warm, the steam flowing through the hot water pipes gave a soft hum to the room. And there is a lovely order for me in that space. I know which tools to collect and place on the workbench. My movements feel choreographed as I turn on the vacuum and extruder - to gather clay from the pug mill. I lay mats on the slab roller. I am ready.

It is not like any other part of my life. I have no planned outcome. I am not lining up tools to cook a meal - that I have imagined, or books to study from. I am waiting, in a quiet readiness. I am completely free of self-design. I really do let the clay speak to me about how it should drape, fall, curve, sit in my hand.

Yesterday was full and demanding. Church was inspiring and emotional for me. From the opening notes of the prelude, through the scriptural selections, hymns, prayer, and testimonies -- I felt drained of self. I didn't have a stitch of "me" left to navigate a conversation or interaction. It wasn't a bad feeling. It was just a feeling.  A feeling of being so fully emptied, that "Kate" had little left to give at that moment.

I was deeply grateful for a friend who didn't need words. He just put his arm around my shoulder and squeezed. It was perfect. As I drove away from church, I asked myself, "what do you need right now?" Well, I knew that I probably needed to make sure that the bowls I'd worked on earlier that day, had stable bottoms that wouldn't wobble after they were fired. So, since that was all I knew was needed at that moment, I headed to the studio -- assuming I would be in and out in less than five minutes.

But from the moment I arrived, the thought of holding a waiting lump of clay in my hands -- felt like a moment of sanctuary offering itself up -- like a chalice during communion. I didn't even take off my coat. I just began gathering the tools of my sacrament. My vestments were an old clay, and glaze, splattered flannel shirt.  There is something so beautiful in this simple ritual. It all leads to that exact moment when I am waiting -- letting my fingers smooth, and mold, and shape the clay into what it is asking to become.

The prayers that flow in that space are as pure, and free of self, as any I have ever known. They are a sacrament: "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace."

My hands cease to be "my hands" and are, as St. Francis prayed, "an instrument of Thy peace." These are moments so holy that by the time I am finished, I am completely surprised that "time" has even passed.

Sometimes a friend shares this space. Our time together is as balanced as a church service, or the shared sacrament of communion - kneeling, praying, silence, movement, rising, singing, praying -- together. We work side-by-side. We let the quiet be as deep as the conversation. I am always moved by these times of fellowship, while serving the beauty of Soul with our hearts and our hands.

Last night I was particularly moved by how that space of sanctuary was calling me into shape. It wasn't just that I was listening for the shape of the vessel forming in my hands, but I was being shaped by the clay itself. There was a moment when the surface of the clay felt dry and intractable. Rather than becoming frustrated, I stopped and asked what I needed to be. God clearly said, "softer." So my hands and my heart softened their touch, on the clay and in my prayers.

The vessel that birthed itself was as lovely in my hands as any I have ever held. The prayer that formed in my heart was as full of gentle self-compassion, and impartial tenderness for humanity, as any I have every "heard."

We are not of this world. But we are in it. We navigate streets of asphalt. We hold hands that are soft with youth, and burled by experience. We sit at tables that have been crafted in hearts, before they are carved in wood.

I hope you will let your love for God lead you to a deeper love for all that you see, hear and feel beneath your fingertips -- whether it is the soft hair of an infant, or the clear lines of a sculpted stone. I hope that the things you love -- what your hands have handled of the word of God -- lead you deeper into the kingdom of heaven -- where all things are His. There is, in fact, no matter. All is spiritual. For, "all is infinite Mind, and its infinite manifestation."  God, truly is, All-in-all.

offered with Love,


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