Saturday, July 17, 2010

The "two-pounder bowl"

Love as God's "favorite" ingredient

Lats night I had some friends over for the making of pottery and for a long, summer dinner. We took the appetizer of focachia and garlic herb dipping oil into the studio with our beers, made some pots while the grill was on the 4th hour of roasting pork parts, and then ate a meal of roasted squash from my garden, snow peas in garlic aoli and jasmine rice with dill butter. Between courses we ate frozen red seedless grapes - like little globules of grape sorbet! Amazing as a way to clean the pallet. And so easy. Just keep a bag of grapes in the freezer!

Dessert was a cheese course of St. Andre, goat cheese, manchego, flat breads and fresh fruit over in the pottery again while the last of the guests made a small crock on the wheel - he was perfectly spirtually centered - and it showed in his pot.

At one point in our conversation around pottery and God, one of my guests mentioned that the artist tends to place his best self into his or her work by having a "favorite" kind of work. In other words, when asked what my "favorite" pot is to make, I immediately and without reservation, said "the two-pound bowl." A "Two-pounder" is a common eating bowl - like one would use for a dinner of rice and stir fry or a breakfast of cereal and fruit. It sits well in one hand, is curved around slightly so that hot things stay hot. It has a thicker but somewhat narrow bottom so that it sits well in the hand and is meant simply to go with a spoon and some comfort food for a one-meal-event. That is my favorite pot. My second favorite pot would be the tea bowl and then the tea pot.

We got to discussing how any artist (even if they do not yet know they are one - for we are ALL an artist by default, regardless if we have had the opportunity to find our medium in life) has a "favorite" element. For a potter it may be a shape like my one-meal-bowl. Fopr a computer programer it might be making a web site for a friend. For a painter it may be cobalt blue. For a chef it may be working with pastas or working with fatty pork products - slow roasted and caramelized like the clay pot pork dish I will be making in a few minutes. And for a poet it may be the use of couplets while for a parent it may be story time.

We all have these favorite things we fuse into our work as a theme. We each have our favorite thing which is in everything we make even if only as an echo.

For God, we considered - over lots of wine and laughter- for God that "favorite element seems to be "love."

"Love" seems to be God's "favorite thing" to use in his creating. Love is in humans like blue is in a blue painting by an artist who loves "blue." But when the artist is painting an autumnal scene on a cloudy day - a painting in which there is no overt "blue," that does not mean that "blue" is absent, since it will be used in the mixing of some of the other colors being used in the paining - blue in the back and white for the clouds - blue in the reds for the purple tinge to some leaves - blue in the greens for the teal of some of the late greens of fall and for the fir trees. "Blue is still there because the artist cannot help herself! He absolutely loves - LOVES- blue. So even when it is not a primary color in a painting, it simply finds other ways to make its appearance.

So too with God. Love is in everything. Love is God's favorite ingredient - His favorite color - His favorite medium - His favorite form - His favorite shape - His favorite word-play - His absolutely favorite thing to use when he creates anything. Love just enters into everything He creates because it is God's main ingredient and it is the action of the Trinity- that constant perichoresis - that flowing of love from Father to Spirit to Son to Spirit - to Son - to Father- to Spirit-to Son - all the time - every second of every day and outside of time.

So when we fight - we humans - and we do...then we still have so much love in us that we default back to loving each other - if we are living into our true selves. And when we walk in a forest we are seeing love as green. And when we are cooking we are seeing love as caramelizing. And when we are talking with each other we see love in one of its purest forms. and when we sin we see love as having been counterfeited.

Our friends are the people in whom we see love - God's favorite ingredient. And in our enemies or those with whom we are in argument - we see love as molten potential - the mast of a ship coming up over the horizon. We can't help it. It is how we were made. It is our primary ingredient - because it is God's and we are made in God's image.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

strong and gentle

I was speaking with friends staying at Blackwater Bluff for a few days of R&R. They had watched me making a pot on the potter's wheel and mentioned that there was a time at the beginning when it took great centredness, strength and concentration to center eight pounds of clay on the wheel and draw it up into a cylinder and then seemed to require gentleness to caress the clay into the subtle shapes of beauty and form which the final result requires.
I mentioned that centerdness, strength and gentleness were required for pottery and he reminded me that for those who live a good life and choose to live out of a center of goodness in this world, that strength and gentleness were as important to the living of human life as to the making of a pot.
Life, in seasons, requires that we live from the center of our faith and life in God; and that when facing darkness of the world's evil, face it with both strength and gentleness from that center. If we do that, good will, in the end, prevail. Though we will rarely be thanked for it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

summer meal

Tomorrow I have some friends coming over to meet other friends in from Ohio. There will be eight of us for dinner and the table outside under the elm will be the site of some long, summer eating and drinking. Vodka infused with pineapple (soaked for a few days) will start us off. Then a nice plate of cheeses and breads, a pasta course of pasta with roasted tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, fresh basil and cream topped with shavings of Parmesan, a cucumber and radish salad and finally some grilled skirt steak or Asian chicken - not decided yet. The bushes around the house are heavy with raspberries and it seems the more I pick the more they produce - so raspberries and vanilla ice cream with dark chocolate and iced coffee to finish.
Summer nights with friends at a long table - what is better in life? My garden is full of produce but only because I tend to it. I weed and pluck and snip and add chicken poo-filled hay from the barn ( big enough for one cow or a dozen chickens but not much more!) My friendships are not so different from my garden. The relationships need tending, weeding, trimming, watering, feeding. Occasionally a plant dies and so too does a friendship. Some plants - though wonderful - are not suited to a certain soil - a certain light and so they die. Similarly, occasionally (only once in my short life - happily!) a friendship must die because it simply was not matched will to its garden. One hope it thrives elsewhere.
Friendships - whether they are in a partnership or simply in a set of close friends, need to be tended or they weaken and die or - worse - live a kind of half-life - pale and sickly and using up garden-space without producing much fruit.
And then there are the plants in the garden which flourish - right now my radishes, my summer squash, and the tomatoes - vines so heavy that they cannot stand up under the weight of the fruit. To let a plant die is sad, but the rest of the garden is so lovely and so rich that the mourning lasts as long as it takes to pluck a tomato, sprinkle it with olive oil, salt and pepper and tuck in with reckless abandon alongside a glass of cold white wine and some smoked oysters in their tin oil and lots of cracked pepper on top!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

One inch of fired glaze, close up - transformed


When I spend time with this photo done by my friend Jeremy Winnick, the light which comes from the house due to the overexposure of the photograph reminds me of the light which comes from a kiln at its highest temperatures. The white, hot light which comes from a reduction kiln at 2,300 degrees can look just like this when you remove a brick and look into the kiln with a face shield much like the ones on space helmets.

When you pull that brick from the wall of the kiln which has been maintaining a mild explosion of fire for 12 hours from two gas blasts of flame which are more than 8 feet long and wrap around the barrel-vaulted kiln in a figure eight - that heat is white hot. And what you are looking for in the kiln is transformation - and nothing short of it. You are looking for the violence of the fire to wrap around the pots and among the pots and inside the pots licking the glaze and changing its chemical make-up and that of the clay - transforming them both into a completely new thing.

A potter knows that the very best glaze results come from a pot that has been in fire and not just heat. And he or she also knows that the best results come from the highest heat, raised very slowly so that the glaze on the outside of the clay (dipped in the glaze bucket the night before) and the clay of the pottery mug, are so fused together in the heat of the kiln that they become one thing. No longer is the coating of the glaze different from the clay pot. The two have become one new thing.

When I look at this photo, I am reminded that God is doing that to me.

That light may not be 2,300 degrees of fire but it is transforming me and making what I am on the outside - what people see- more integrated with who I am on the inside - what people see when they get to know me and what God sees completely. Blackwater Bluff - my home - is a place filled with the light of my friends, my dog, my meditation time, my vocation in the diocese and my contemplation of life. It is not hot, but it is intense. It is hard to become who one is being made into by the loving and strong hands of the Creator. But I am convinced that the courage, reflection and suffering that comes from life can contribute to our transformation into something far more beautiful, far more valuable and useful to others than we are now.

I live a life in which I am seeking truth. That truth is sometimes hard to hold - is sometimes white hot like the inside of a kiln. Sometimes I want nothing more than to just go with the flow - give up this transformation and just pop in and out of church and do what I want - be who I want. But I am sure, as I look at this photo of the stars moving across the sky, that I am part of something much bigger than me and that my transformation and my re-creation is part of THE transformation and THE recreation.

When I open a kiln after 24 hours of firing and 48 hours of cooling, I am stunned by the glittering, sparkling array of glazes and pots I see winking before me in the light. They have gone from being a mug and a goblet to being a work of art. And yet, all I did was thrust some clay into some emulsified glass and chemicals. The fire is what did it. Those fantastic colors of glass crystals- the blues and golds and ochres and mauves and tans in that glaze dripping here and pooling there and falling there - that is not me. It was helped by me and sort of set up by me as an artist - but the transformation came in that blinding heat of the kiln.

We live - and what we do contributes to our life - good and bad. But the real wonder is what God does with it all - that heat of God's spirit flowing through church and friendships and tragedies - that God-heat is what makes us the stunning works of art we all are becoming, if we allow the pain to transform us.

Friday, July 2, 2010


Vietnamese Pho is one of my favorite meals. It is made with beef bones, roasted and then simmered for hours into a rich, beefy, sweet broth - simmered with brown sugar, soy sauce, a bag of spices long and slow - poured over rice noodles and raw, thinly shaved beef and then topped with bean sprouts, sweet basil, mint and spring onion. Once the broth is made, the meal takes minutes to make and is simple, hearty and soothing.
This meal was set for some friends and I made the bowls deep so that they would hold the heat of the soup. (Pho bowls need to be deep and as closed as possible since pho (pronounced "fah") is best when served very hot.
Simple, hearty and soothing are good things. Having been raised by westerners and having grown up in the west, I was raised on complex foods, but as I age and my patience at the stove (when I want a simple meal for one or two) has waned, I gravitate to Asian foods with their simple fresh ingredients and their fast stir-fry readiness.
Since I know that I like the simple, the hearty and the soothing in my foods I am beginning to become aware that I want those same things in my life, my work, my friends, my pottery and my life.