Firing the kiln this morning reminds me that the fires of life can form us into the people God is longing for us to become. The kiln was lit last night and has spent the night climbing in temperature. This morning at 3:00 am it was time to begin the firing process which will change the clay and glazes from what they are to what I hope they will become. The birds are singing loudly as if in encouragement.
When one fires a kiln, there are four jets pounding fire into the kiln with four streams of fire as long as I am tall. The four jets of flame will arc around the kin from its four corners – hitting the opposite walls, climbing the walls, arching over the ceiling’s barrel vault and heading back down the other side. The temperature will rise about 200 degrees. The starvation of the kiln of oxygen will create a smokey chamber which will wash the semi-molten pots in a smoke which will bring out the colors and smooth out the glazes. A dozen chalices and patens are inside this kiln for use in the cathedral’s Wilderness service. There is a wedding present for friends and some dinner plates for my kitchen.
The clay, and the glazes on the surface of the clay, will transform in this fire. The pots which emerge from this firing process will be transformed into a stunning set of subtle, earthy colors and textures. They will emerge from this violent and maintained fire strong, dishwasher safe, microwave safe, oven proof and gorgeous.
I have seen pain make people closed off, shut down, angry, bitter. But I have also seen pain make people shine- becoming ever more the people God would hope for. The difference seems to be in whether people – when experiencing pain – choose to suffer as well. Pain is an inevitable part of life but suffering is a choice we make. Both will change us. Pain will often induce humility, inspire patience and encourage courage. Suffering will wizen, corrode, un-nerve and embitter.
The difference is in how we think of the pain, just as the difference between a well-fired pot and an over-fired or under-fired pot is in that modulation of fire and smoke, oxygen and gas. If we can let the pain simply rest in us like an unwelcome aunt sitting at our table at a wedding, then we can meet the inevitability with some curiosity. If, however, we meet that pain by letting our thoughts turn it into suffering, then we begin to cause ourselves even more pain. In the analogy, it is one thing to kindly welcome crazy, old aunt Hilda at my dinner table. It is quite another to pick a fight with her. Her arrival is hard enough. But is it really necessary to get all riled up about her being there and then, in an ego storm, react by picking fights with her?
Pain will come. People will do and say evil or unkind things. We will be lied about, lied to, manipulated and abused. It is what happens in life. The great art is to meet it with a centered peacefulness and not exacerbate the pain by thinking in such a way that suffering ensues.
The way I choose to do this internal work is to go back to THE WORK (which we will do as a Cathedral around the Art of Hosting in October and beyond) by noticing anxious thoughts and meeting them with curiosity: “Is that true?” …”Can I be absolutely sure that is true?” … “How do I react when I think that thought?” …”Who would I be without that negative thought?” Soon, the thought dissipates like fog and peace returns. The pain is still there. It is just the suffering which has abated.
If that does not work, go to Huckleberry Roasters (Larimer and 25th) for coffee and pie. Pie helps a lot. And on Fridays, coffee is all-you-can-drink. And there are two kinds of fresh-baked pie – a savory and a sweet.