This ball of clay I used yesterday to make a Ramen bowl is the very best clay. “Why?” you ask. This is amazing clay because of the greenish-grey swirls you see within the pale grey of the iron-rich clay on Whidbey Island, where I live. That greenish-dark marbling you see is from my own recycled clay. When I make a mistake, break a dry pot, ruin a freshly-thrown pot, take scrapings or slurry off a pot as I throw (make) it on the wheel, I toss broken bits in a bucket. In that water-bucket clay returns to sludge and the greenish swirls are the dead matter (mold, 250 million-year-old dead leaves, fish poo, ancient carcasses – everything that grows in the deep, transforming darkness of mud.
It is precisely that dead, slimy pile of scraps and broken clay pots that makes the recycled clay sticky, and that deadness-sticky is what makes the clay so lovely to use by the potter. It is flexible. It is strong, It is forgiving of a mistake, unlike new clay from a local ceramic company which is brittle and hard to make into pots.
It is many deaths that make a person good. The thousands of deaths one experiences in life, if well-metabolized, change us from the inside out and grows what we call “emotional intelligence.” Those who are truly happy are happy because of the hard work they have done and are willing to do when tragedy strikes. The Russian roulette of a sermon is dangerous because that preaching is that person’s thoughts that day. Would you give a stranger or a friend a scalpel and invite them to do surgery on you? Preaching is the drive-up-window-fast-food of spirituality.
Real spirituality is much harder than lighting a candle, wearing a cross, or listening to a person you don’t know, talk while being their captive audience for an hour. Some of the most powerful clergy I know are also the least “good” people I know. They have the costumes and trapping, accessories, and titles, but are they honest? Kind? Emotionally intelligent? The real hard work of the spiritual life is to metabolize your own pain in your own private “closet” (or with a skilled therapist) – your mistakes, your grief, and your losses -as you live this one brief, tiny life.
And especially as one enters one’s 60’s, so my therapist says, one must face one’s mistakes and griefs, abuses and bullying events (done to you or done by you), losses and betrayals (done to you or done by you) in order to find peace. Grief, loss, life mistakes, and other sufferings must be metabolized, they can’t be prayed away or medicated away or addiction-ed away.
Face your losses. Face your betrayals. Face your fears. Face your grief. If you do, that grey-green sludge and slime will make the clay of your life nice and sticky, easy to use, and helpful to those around you.
Stop trying to be holy, and start trying to be helpful.