Image of hands of a potter, creating an earthen jar on the circle


One of the Christmas gifts I received this year was to take a class in wheel-thrown pottery. Show of hands: anyone else had a chance to do this?

When I first walked into the studio, the smell of clay hit me like a ton of bricks (pun intended). It is a cold, damp, and earthy smell. It isn’t bad; it’s just different.

I looked around and noticed a circle of pottery wheels, with sloppy buckets of water next to each one. There are also lots of tools there that I didn’t recognize. I was interested to find out how to use them.

As I waited for the rest of the class to arrive, I noticed a guy taking large lumps of clay and cutting each one. He weighs them into smaller, precise amounts. He kneads each piece of clay, placing them all in a large bucket for us to grab.

The instructor has each of us remove our jewelry, put on aprons, then sit down at our stools. I cozy up to my pottery wheel.

The first thing the instructor has us do is to play with the foot pedal, allowing us to get a feel for the different speeds of the wheel. Too slow and the piece wobbles. Too fast and you can’t maintain control of the clay. Either way can be disastrous.

Once I get my lump of clay, I learn that the kneading is to remove all the air bubbles. If there are any air bubbles left, they cause the formed piece of clay to crack or even explode once in the kiln.

I then learned about how to put the clay on the metal wheel. There is actual artistry to this step.

You have to forcefully throw it to the center of the wheel. If the clay isn’t centered, you have to peel it off and re-slam it down. This step is loud and messy. The water from my hands and the clay both splatter everywhere. It is also somewhat therapeutic! Who doesn’t like that?

As I wet both my hands in the bucket of water, I learned that they are not two separate tools, but one. The best execution for molding the clay is to have both hands touching each other the whole time. This allows your left hand to know exactly what your right hand is doing. They become one.

At this point, my hands are wet and the wheel is spinning. My hands are together with my thumbs interlocked, cupping the clay. In this moment, I am trying to remember everything that I had just been taught.

The pressure on the clay has to be both gentle and firm. If you squeeze too tight, the clay comes out between your fingertips in an ooey-gooey mess. If you don’t squeeze enough, nothing is formed, molded, or created.

Once I managed to create a perfect dome of clay, I learned how to “drop the hole.” That means that pressure has to come equally from the outside and the inside. Without the pressure from both sides, you can’t create a vessel. It would not be able to hold anything, and would lack purpose.

Isaiah 64:8 says:

”Yet You, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay. You are the potter. We are all the work of Your hand.”

If you have been a Christian for awhile, it is easier to admit that He is our Potter. Yet, the comfort for me comes from knowing that He is not only the Potter and the One doing the shaping, but that His forming is not random.

He is involved.

He is caring.

He is personal.

He is my Dad.

So, even with the pressures and the discomforts of life, I can trust my Father. I can know that—with purpose and skill—He is creating something beautiful.