Photo by Father Theophan Mackey
BY FATHER THEOPHAN MACKEY
St. Job of Pochaiv Orthodox Church
Over the past few weeks, I have been showing some people how to throw pottery, to form it on the pottery wheel. It is an ancient process, made much easier by electric motors and premixed, homogenized clay.
The hardest thing for beginners to get is centering the clay, getting the clay perfectly balanced in the middle of the spinning wheel. It takes experience and feel for pressing in on the clay while also pressing down, so that the clay has no other place to go than into the center of the wheel head. Being able to do it quickly and consistently takes a lot of practice and repetition. With the technique I was taught, and the one that I use and teach, the left hand, anchored in the hip joint, pushes laterally and the right hand, also anchored into the body, pushes down. But “push” is the wrong word, the whole body is used. One leans on the clay. The feeling is much more akin to pushing a car out of a snowdrift than it is like shoving an unexpecting friend into a pool. It takes a concerted effort of the whole body.
And even then, the potter must push the clay past center, just ever so slightly, so that when they relax, the clay returns to the center. It’s such a touchy thing.
The whole process is humbling. Here is two pounds of inanimate inertia and if one is not mindful, it can quickly become a slimy, wet projectile, seemingly with a mind of its own.The center is hard to find, but when it happens, then all sorts of good things are possible. Then when the potter opens the clay up and starts pulling the walls, they have a solid base that is not working against them, not wiggling uncontrollably.
Finding our center, spiritually or emotionally speaking, can be just as fraught. No one has yet been able to definitively locate the spirit, or even the center of thought and emotion. We can reproduce intelligence, but a conscious spirit is still a ways off. We are not a spiritual/intellectual pilot in an infinitely complex machine of a body. We are an enlivened body. Born in a different time, or under different circumstances, we would be almost completely different than we find ourselves now.
Using our emotions, our desires, or our passions as our center, sets us up for a rollercoaster ride. They change moment to moment. If you don’t believe me, be mindful of your emotional status as you finish up work, drive to pick up the kids, run errands, and go home. How many mood shifts are there? Just in those 30 or 40 minutes?
“What a beautiful day!” “Turn already! It’s a green arrow!” “What? No signal?!” “They have my favorite dessert in the bakery!” “Why don’t they have more checkers?” “My kids are turning out great!” “Whose kids are these and why are they so miserable?”
We can attain to more than that, more peace than that. We can find our center in something larger than ourselves, something less mercurial, more eternal.
Of course there is wiggle room. It’s often imperfections that make the most interesting details, but living and working completely off balance is unsustainable and precarious.
When we find the center, all sorts of good things are possible.