We are like clay in designer’s hand,
As he wills—to contract, as he wills—to expand,
So are we in your hand to lovingly define,
Look past our designs keep the covenant in mind.
An anonymous prayer poet shaped Jeremiah’s image (Jeremiah 18:6) of God, the Potter, into a Yom Kippur plea: O, Designer/Yotzer! Overlook our impulsive designs/yetzer and be mindful only of our covenant!
For poet and prophet, God is the Potter-All-Powerful who understands and overlooks. But the great 20th century potter-philosopher, M.C. Richards, in her work, Centering, offers a potter more real. In her knowing hands, a different theology takes shape and the potter is not all-powerful:
The potter does everything that he can do. But he cannot burst into flame and reach a temperature of 2300 degrees Fahrenheit for a period varying from eight hours to a week and harden plastic clay into rigid stone, and transform particles of silica and spar into flowing glaze… He can only surrender his ware to the fire, listen to it, talk to it, so that he and the fire respond to each other’s power, and the fired pot is the child.
The potter can do but so much. The Days of Awe are for each fired-pot child to attend to her own yetzer, to her own impulses, to the heat and glaze of his own life. Unable to share the experience of the kiln, the potter surrenders, listens, talks and responds. Perhaps this is a Potter to meet during the Days of Awe—a Potter who supports the vessels for the work that only they can accomplish.
Two Israeli poets examine the living clay—inside and out. Yehuda Amichai dredges up vessels of experiences from the depths. Encrusted or adorned, the basic shape of the jar is unchanged in the depths plumbed from ships that soar in the watery heavens above. Don’t clean the clay of its experience! Color and crust tell the ongoing story of the basic shape beneath:
My experiences are like jars sunk in the sea long ago
brought up from the sea bed covered with moss
and seaweed and barnacles all over, but the shape of the jars is still
as it was. So are my experiences, the cry is still my cry
and the laugh still my laughter. Don’t try to clean
them. The laugh is heavy and deep from the depths
and the cry is adorned with sediment thick and beautiful from the abyss.
This too is change this too a different place
and all the ships are in the heights of the heavens.
Amichai examines accretions to the outer surface of the clay. Another Israeli poet, Rivka Miriam, attends to the unseen interior:
And in the beauty of the jar is the oil captured
between olive and light
Bend your ear to the jar
the creating resonance of the innerness.
We, along with the poets, examine the clay inside and out. M.C. Richards, master potter, assures us that inside and outside are one and that our turning—Teshuvah—both this way and that—is natural:
The outer shape of the clay is the extension of its center. We press out from the center and make the pot: the outside is the surface of the inside. We turn inward and outward with the same naturalness…
As human beings functioning as potters, we center ourselves and our clay…
The pot becomes the potter. May the pot be becoming to the potter.