This is one of my favorite pieces. I made it five years ago in the studio of my New Hampshire farmhouse. The purple glaze is a Korean recipe which blushes purple when thick, but stretches to corn-flower-blue when it gets thin on the clay.
This pot I designed to hold this glaze. I knew its properties. I knew how it falls at 2300 degrees, when the glaze liquefies in that heat and its silica melts into flowing glass, bearing its oxides along the way to form a glassy surface we call “glaze.” I have used this recipe for 30 years and I know it the way a husband knows the contours of his wife’s thigh or a priest knows the lectionary. I know what the glaze does when it breaks over a ridge. I know what the glaze does when it flows down slowly on a wide surface like this one, but I also know what it does on a straight, fast fall such as on a gu vase or a calligraphy brush-holder. I know how it catches light when it is thick and how it absorbs it when it draws thin over creamy clay. A potter must not just be able to make a good pot. A potter must be able to anticipate the glaze they plan to use on the shape they have just made.
This vase was made for a funeral, as so many of mine are. It was for a dead friend and I wanted it to be beautiful. He had been beautiful. I wanted the crystal to show off masculinity and transparency the way he did and I wanted the glaze to be playful the way he was. He was a priest, and old friend and a poet. He had committed suicide. People were cruel to him and it was the only way he knew to stop it. We all wish he had sought help.
When his mother saw the cremation urn, she sighed a bit the way an artist loves an appreciative sigh. She smiled and said “He would have wanted to be buried in this.” And we both laughed because we both knew he was such a diva that this was quite true. He would have. That’s why I made it for my friend. Though making a pot while sobbing is hard on the eyes, the salt seeps into the clay as it spins.
Making a pot is not really that different to making a life. We need to match the right glaze with the body on which it rests, flows, gathers, pools and shimmers in Go(o)d Light.
My life, your life; is the clay. God is molding our lives every day as we spin through Her divine fingers. Less and less do I believe in “the church,” but as that transformation occurs, unbidden and unstoppable, I seem to believe in Jesus all the more passionately. The more petty, bitchy people yammer from insecurity or power, the more Jesus, in sandals, woos, cajoles and whispers that all will be weird and all will be well. That He went through it and so can we. The abandonment jesus felt that day was just a passing cloud. The sun never stopped shining. God never left the stage.
We let God make us. God is the potter. We are the clay. The Bible is clear on that. But the Bible is “the small book.” Life is “the big book.” And what I notice about the big book of real life is that beyond being thrown on a potter’s wheel, we are also glazed. We are glazed by that in which we are dipped or dip ourselves. And making a good choice about the glaze – about that into which we are dipped – is every bit as important as those thousands of decisions a potter makes when forming the shape of a pot. Should it be mat, or glossy. Mottled or serene? Oil-spot or feathered? Purple or black? Or blue. For what will it be used?
In the first half of life, I was overly interested in the shape of pots. But now, in this second half of life, I am more intrigued by the glaze which pairs with the form. And similarly, in the interior (some say “spiritual” life, we do need to work on the form, of course. But then we need to pair it well with the covering glaze. With real life. Our home, our fiends, our marriages, the art we make, our vocation, our schedule, our boss, our colleagues, our chosen institutions. Being a good pot (to maintain the metaphor) and then making a poor decision in these real-life areas works against the integrity of spirituality the way including dog shit in a cheese soufflé recipe works against the lovely cheddar you so carefully chose – the one from Ireland with the black wax coating.
We must look at the whole of our lives; the entire integrity, not just an isolated part. And we must make good choices externally as we try to internally for real integrity. After all, it is true that Hitler was a vegetarian, and so kind to the planet and his body…but that is not the whole story…