When I was in eleventh grade, I learned the true risk of what it means to create. I had completed the first stage of a clay sculpture – a hand-formed depiction of my faith journey, as the art assignment instructed. I had molded a statue of a woman wearing a long flowing robe, holding a swaddled baby and positioned moving forward atop a cross. The symbolism was intended to be both obvious and layered with nuances literally and figuratively. This was not my first go at working with clay. Thus, I was careful to ensure appropriate thickness and avoid air bubbles, lest the whole effort crack or explode during the first firing in the kiln. Yet, this was my largest sculpture to date; it was about a foot tall. I was a little nervous but confident in the process. I was part of a tightknit art class. They had been affirming of me and my art piece as I worked on it. A couple of my classmates (Who were on kiln crew) even noted that they had taken special care to place it in the kiln. A day or so later, as I was hanging out in the art room, those same classmates came in visibly forlorn. They slowly approached me. They seemed hesitant to say anything; but with consoling tones, they told me that my clay piece did not make it. I vividly remember having the initial obvious feeling of disappointment, but also having a strange feeling of calm about the outcome. For starters, I felt so supported by my teacher and classmates. I should note, my teacher gave me an A for the assignment despite its unofficial completeness. Regardless of the outcome, I felt “seen” and supported during the creative process. I think my sense of calm, in the midst of disappointment, emerged from a keen awareness that not only had I already indeed created something but, more importantly, I had not created it alone. In such a lived experience, this was, in fact, the depiction of my faith journey.
Ever since I began to work with clay, I fell in love with every bit of the material and process. During grad school, I remember chatting with a professor about how working with clay, specifically the potter’s wheel, embodied all three phases of Freud’s theory of development – providing a truly psychodynamic art therapeutic experience. We had a good laugh about it, savoring how art is so sublimely conscious and unconscious in its healing power. After all, I was a committed art therapy student and he was a beloved art therapy pioneer who had helped charter the art therapy program I was attending. Little did I know then, as much as I wanted to be an art therapist, I was already a doula at heart. Working with a medium like clay has its own kind of tangible birth experience… stages of gestation, happenings inside and out, things emerging from the fire etc. I strongly believe artwork (made from clay) bears not just a physical gestational reality but begs a certain wonderment about spiritual existence.
The Bible has many references about the relational connection between Potter and Clay and the relevant relationship between God and humanity. When my hands are immersed in clay, I often think of God’s creative process – carefully and intentionally molding and fashioning earthen elements into something distinct – me/us. I love the ancient creation story in Genesis of how God did not just form humanity from earth but breathed living Spirit into such earthenware (Genesis 2:7). We were not simply made from dirt without purpose, but we have been strategically created with divine essence to perpetuate the best kind of creative genius – eternity. King Solomon reflected on it this way:
“What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:9 – 11)
As a doula, I can never predict the outcome for my clients, nor can I ever make certain promises about end results. I’ve been asked all too often over the years, “how much longer, what if I need X, how will I know Y” etc. I can merely affirm the process and the relationships involved, provide relevant information to make intentional decisions along the way, and offer techniques of comfort and calm to endure the process and hopefully help make it efficient. Ha, using the word “merely” seems so pejorative – suggesting I wish there was more I can do to relieve the stress of uncertainty and discomfort. But why do I minimize the value of simply being available in the moment, ready to serve and participate, making sure not to force anything or anyone to do something unintentional. It’s such a delicate balance. It’s risky business. Yes, and I’m ever more convinced of how resistance to what is meant to unfold and what we mean to unfold Is the opposite of the creative process (and product) being valued as something beautiful.
When it comes to clay and the powerful metaphor it possesses relevant to my faith journey, I take great comfort in God’s persistence to not give up on forming and reforming us into something beautiful, something eternal; but this process can only happen when we offer ourselves as lumps of clay or cracked ceramic pieces for Him to handle with care.The process requires relationship, an intimate relationship, to truly render creative worth. The prophet Ezekiel said this on God’s behalf, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26) Eternity is still part of the story, the creative genius persists. We were and are not meant to be dust to dust but earthy divine creatures that have stories to tell and art to make forever.
Plaster & Clay
Casted human foot: plaster 1992
Tile #2 of triptych series; clay 1992
Terra-cotta mask: 1999
Yin-Yang carafe and goblets: clay 2002
Bowl: Part 1 of communion set (Bread & Wine); clay 2002
Pottery pieces in Bowl – collected during my trip to Israel 2019:
*Collection A from Meggido; 7th century BC (Israelite era)
*Collection B found during my archaeological dig experience from Bet Guvrin; 3rd century BC (Edemite era)
Hand-built vessel; clay 2002
Sing; casted plaster sculpture 2012
The Dressmaker’s Form: terra-cotta 2013
Labor of Love; terra-cotta 2013
Special thanks to an amazing art crew from Plumstead Christian School; photo of “voted most artistic”, senior year 1994