She slams a chunk of clay to the wheel. It has no particular shape, but she took a moment to round the edges and corners before slapping it down. Her hands cup the clay, embracing it on the spinning wheel. Soggy bits of clay spatter her arms, hands, and clothes. The chunk responds to her embrace. Round and smooth it rises into a spire as if on its own.

IMG_6496As she works, she instructs her beginning pottery students. This is our first lesson.

“This is centering. It is the most difficult step. If a piece isn’t centered you won’t be able to do anything with it.” Now her hands move. One still cups the clay; the other pushes it down toward the wheel.



Enthralled by dance of potter and clay, I try it. I take a lump of clay and pound it with the heel of my hand until it is roughly round. I slam it down hard so that it won’t fly off the wheel entirely.  Cupping my wet hands around the clay I try to embrace it the way the master potter does.  I am elated. It responds to my touch, and a narrow spire rises from the wheel. A giggle bubbles in my chest. My hands are wrapped around a very clear phallic shape. Good girl that I am, I press my witty humor down with the clay. Then I see that fear of scraping my hands left most of the lump flattened and spinning on the wheel. She takes over for me, gradually lifting the clay from the wheel and moving it back into a lump. I try again. This time as I push it back down the clay begins flopping around, taking my hands and arms with it. I stop the wheel and look. “You’re all catawampus.” The clay is misshapen, lying askew.

I know “all catawampus”. I am clay, dizzy in a world that moves too fast for me. My longing to be loved becomes a demand. My attempts to cover my inadequacy become efforts to control. I dedicate myself to my own well-being and become self-centered. I am in trouble. Almost imperceptibly at first I wobble. A harsh word finds its mark and leaves a bruise. I am bent out of shape.  Someone succeeds where I have failed, envy douses me. I succeed and someone else fails, pride takes over. I flop all over the place.

The Potter cups his hands around me again. He moves me firmly back to the center, back to Him. Like the world before creation I am formless and void. He pushes me down. My world spins around me. In fury I cry out “That’s the wrong way!” I want to rise from the wheel, to take shape into something at once beautiful and useful. But firmly he pushes me back down, centering. Squeeze up. Push down. Squeeze up.  I cry out with King David “How long, Oh Lord! Will you forget me forever?”(Psalm 13:1) Silence. Squeeze. Push. Eventually, for a moment, the wheel spins and I spin smoothly with it, anchored, centered only in Him, malleable with trust. Becoming can begin.


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  1. My God and Me Time Basket | Beth Ratzlaff - February 25, 2014

    […] I sit down with God. My basket contains things that invite me to center, (more on centering here:  ) become aware of what is going on in me, sense God’s presence, and listen. Here are the […]

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