Ever work with clay? Way back when I was a high school teacher at Red Cloud on Pine Ridge one of the art teachers offered to teach ceramics to any interested faculty member in the evenings. Now in those days the volunteers and Jesuits did not have a lot of money so a group of us realized that we could become artistic AND make gifts for our family and friends since Christmas was near upon us. So I signed up for this class -- the instructor was looking for deep artistic engagement while I was more into mass production – make as many gifts as possible. Some negotiation of expectations was needed as I began my learning experience.
The readings today talk about a classic binary opposition – inside and outside. What comes out of a person is what defiles a person, not what goes into a person. The gospel writer attributes this to the lifting of the Jewish prohibition on certain foods. We can take it further. It is our heart that can hurt or heal, that can defile us or purify us, can be sealed in stone through indifference or can be broken open in compassion. It was not the fruit that defiled our first parents but their neglect of God’s wishes. This was an interior flaw rather than a poor food choice, a matter of the inside and not simply the outside.
Before I started working with clay in this class I thought there was only an outside of clay – color and texture. But besides a taste of an artistic temperament in the face of utilitarianism, I learned a lot about the inside of clay. Before you can use clay to form an object you must work it carefully. You have to wedge the clay to work out any air bubbles that could destroy the object when it is fired. You can also add different substances to the clay for strength and texture. Ultimately, you must handle and work the clay for a considerable amount of time to make it ready to be shaped and fired.
Both scriptures today talk about obedience to God’s plan and the focus of that obedience – our hearts. We need to look inside and attend to what God asks of and for us – to be obedient, to be containers of God’s goodness, to bring forth goodness for ourselves and others rather than defilement and destruction. Both readings ask us to look inside and take responsibility for our actions and choices.
Working with clay has taught me the value of working on the inside – we need to examine our inner thoughts and motivations, to both let God in and to work with ourselves gently to transform our inner selves, to be clay in God’s hands to be strengthened and purified and to work with ourselves and not be discouraged by flaws but to work them out.
Ever work on yourself? Clearly you are doing this right now by hearing these readings and exploring them further. God works with our inner being, much like the potter works with clay, to make us strong and stable. We too must be willing and ready for this hard work on ourselves.
Learning about preparing clay slowed down my visions of mass production and instant gifts – it took a considerable amount of time to prepare some clay for a vessel – but that was the point – we need to take time to prepare what’s within us and to allow God in to work with us in the process. This is not immediate but gradual – so that from our hearts obedience, love, compassion, generosity, selflessness will flow.I reached a happy compromise with the art teacher and made fewer attractive and inspired gifts rather than mass produced plentitude. I learned that mass production would not work to make a worthy vessel. I had to prepare the clay carefully – so too we need to gently work with ourselves, our inner selves, and allow Christ in to work with us as you have today in taking this reading to heart (notice the image), so that from the vessels which are our selves will pour forth God’s goodness and blessings.
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