My grandmother was an avid potter. I remember as a child receiving from her an eagle mounted on a rock with the inscription, “He will lift you up on eagle’s wings”, words of comfort and hope amidst the ups and downs of the tumultuous teen years. It sat on my bedroom desk for many years until I knocked it over one day, breaking one of the wings clean off. Somehow it didn’t diminish the majesty of the figure though. Sure, it was a little damaged now, but I somehow knew instinctively that the missing wing, an unplanned accident, could not diminish the deeper reality the eagle represented.
After that, I kept my prized one winged eagle on my mantle above my bed, just out of reach so it was far less likely I could knock it over again. Of course that’s exactly what I did just two months later, and the eagle lost its beak this time round. But nevertheless, this imperfect clay bird stood in pride of place in my bedroom for many more years to come and it became for me a symbol of my own human journey, with all the bruised and broken pieces of my own life as I dealt with the inevitable highs and lows of growing up and being formed as a young adult.
The word that came from Jeremiah from the Lord, “Come down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.
The beautiful imagery the prophet Jeremiah uses this morning, portrays a unique insight into the character of our God. There is an intimate relationship here between the potter and the clay, between our God and each one of us. It’s a relationship that is first and foremost cherished. It’s a relationship that is described further in the psalm set for today, a portion of Psalm 139 – probably one of the most powerful psalms that speaks of God’s unconditional love for every human life, and how that love sees us for who we really are and how nothing we can say or do can ever separate us from this love of God that knows no bounds.
The psalmist writes, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways… where can I go from your spirit? or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven you are there, if I make my bed in Sheol you are there.”
God is acquainted with all our ways, God sees us for who we really are and like a potter shaping the clay, we are constantly being refined, and molded more fully into the unique work of art we were created to be. In this morning’s passage from Jeremiah, the prophet is speaking of God’s relationship with Israel, and in particular, a plea for the King of Judah to stick with the covenant commitments of his predecessor, to remain open to the relationship between God and God’s people. Jeremiah reminds the people that God can very easily take the clay and break it down and create something new that has never been before. There is a need for constant reflection and prayerfulness as we seek to align our hearts and minds with God, to not allow the winds of happenstance to blow us in any direction, but to make our relationship with God the central part of our identity and our foundation for life because every other thing will eventually pass away. The love of God is the one constant that holds us through it all. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes in his book, “God has a Dream:
“Dear child of God, in our world it is often hard to remember that God loves you just as you are. God loves you not because you are good. No, God loves you, period… We too often feel that God’s love for us is conditional like our love is for others. We have made God in our image rather than seeing ourselves in God’s image….at the risk of getting myself into trouble, I will say that in a sense it actually doesn’t matter what we do. For nothing we can do, no matter how bad, will change God’s love for us. But in another way it does matter, because when you are in love you want to please the one you love… love is more demanding even than law.”
This, I believe, is what God through Jeremiah is getting at in this morning’s Old Testament reading. It is a call to love, a call to firstly recognize God’s love of us individually, followed by a call to love God and others as we have been loved, allowing that love to shape us, to mold us into the vessel God would have us be. In our relationship with others, love has a way of drawing us out of our selfish ways and into new possibilities, the same is true in our relationship with God Jeremiah seems to say. God takes our strengths and our weaknesses, our successes and our failings and creates something new.
There’s a centuries-old Japanese custom called kintsugi which means golden joinery. It’s the art of fixing broken pottery through a special process of infusing golden powder into the cracks of a ceramic item, thereby transforming it into a uniquely beautiful, brand new piece of art. Where there were imperfections, shimmering gold fills the space. The practice honours the artifact’s particular journey by highlighting the fractures and the blemishes rather than concealing them. Through this transformative process an old worn vessel is given a new way of displaying their imperfections, revealing the beauty within.
This morning, Jeremiah invites the people of Judah, and us by extension into a kintsugi of the soul. To allow the love of God to fill the cracks and imperfections of our own lives and to have the humility to be reworked in ways that nurture the spirit of love in our lives and in our world. Like the felled eagle on my bedroom mantle, we human beings suffer our own fractures and brokenness throughout our life’s journey. Fractured relationships, broken dreams, shattered expectations and unrealistic projections are just some of the many challenges we face. Yet in all of these and more, the love of God holds us and is acquainted with all our ways. Jeremiah reminds us this morning that the call of God on our lives is one that never gives up on us. It is a call that constantly reshapes our imperfections and selfish ways into something new and life giving. This love that meets us here today loves us as we are, but at the same time refuses to leave us this way, instead it invites us into a lifelong process of refinement. Through this process we come face to face with our cracks and imperfections, yet God does not leave us there. Through a process similar to kintsugi, God, the master potter, infuses the cracked parts of our lives through the power of his love, turning our perceived failings and imperfections into works of art and reminding us that what was once broken can become beautiful again. Through this process, we are changed forever, and whilst our vessel may still yield many a crack and imperfection, we come to recognize that these setbacks no longer define us as they once did. As we are reshaped by the love of God, as we make new decisions that are more life giving than before, as we choose to tend to our relationship with God, we find our strength and our hope reawakened.
This morning, let’s take some time to reflect on one thing we would like to change or perhaps let go of, and allow some space to ask God to rework that part of your life into something beautiful and new.