Working the Clay


Jeremiah offers a vision of God as Potter, and he tells us about holy design, resistance, remaking, and malleability (Jeremiah 18:1-11).  All of these are ingredient in God’s work with us as we do the work of ministry. None of us is yet finished, thanks be to God.

This beloved yet dangerous text from Jeremiah offers a vision of divine purpose that transcends our comprehensive understanding.  God, after all, is the Potter and we are the clay.  God can rework our lives, and we give thanks for this patient artistry of our Maker.

I used this text for our convocation this past week, and I interviewed Dr. Terry Rosell, an excellent potter, to learn more of this craft. Here are the questions with his responses as I can reconstruct them:

  1. What do you experience as you craft beautiful things?

I find it meaningful to make things that are useful, a chief criterion for me.  I spend a great deal of my time as professor and consultant doing cerebral things, and when I sit at the wheel, I use a different part of myself, especially when I experience “flow” in the process.


Earthenware created by Dr. Terry Rosell


  1. What about being a potter gives you insight into divine agency?

When I am making a piece, I am an autocrat; I have a purpose in mind and dictate the outcome.  I don’t think God works with us in that manner.

  1. Does clay ever have a mind of its own? Do you ever end up in a place you did not intend in the beginning?

When the clay does not do what I intend, I sometimes pause and ask, “what do you want to be?”  Those are the pieces I value the most as they turn out in ways not originally intended.

Jeremiah tells us that God is ever working to form a “blemished, not quite right people,” as Patrick Miller puts it. He also notes that “God’s mind can change” as God works the clay of a rebellious, now repentant people.  We need to examine where are we “not quite right.” We are called to respond to the question Terry poses: “what do you want to be?” That is God’s invitation to us.

In humility as persons who are earthen vessels, we remember that we are not yet fully what God imagines and that God can rework us for purposes we could not fathom.  Our prayer is to be malleable to the One who knows and loves us best.  Amen.

Molly T. Marshall

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