By Emilie Bouvier
“FWAP.” There’s something so gratifying about feeling the weight and hard slap of clay against the wedging stone in my kitchen. This is the first step in the process of pottery throwing – wedging out air bubbles, getting the clay pliable and consistent. Then over to the wheel. A final “fwap” of the newly formed ball of clay sticks it to the middle of the wheel head. I press my foot to the pedal and the familiar gentle whirring wells up around me as the wheel starts to spin.
Pottery has been a grounding and meditative practice for me; it draws me into a spiritual place through its own patterns, rhythm, and rituals. It’s very physical, yet frees my mind to through the repetition and familiarity of the sounds and movements. The time I spend throwing brings me rest and rejuvenation. It fills me with satisfaction and wonder to find respite and creativity in the same place.
I can’t help but feel relief and gratitude as I return to my pottery wheel in these days following the midterm primary elections. As a person of faith who believes deeply in showing up in the public square, I spent a good amount of personal time and energy engaging the primaries. For me, it stems from a commitment to live my faith values through civic participation and dialogue with my neighbors in that process.
Yet, it’s exhausting – especially the emotional ups and downs of Election Day. It’s quite a progression from the buildup conversations, casting my ballot, watching social media, and then refreshing my computer browser as the results come in (MPR on in the background), celebrating some of the outcomes, grieving others. And this has just been the primaries.
“How do you attend to the personal dimensions of your public ministry – the untangling of knots within yourself, the practices that keep you centered during times of intensity, the times that help you heal and rejuvenate? I’m looking forward to diving into this more during the rest and learning of Bishop’s Theological Conference this year at the end of September.”
Now, I realize I’m kind of a nerd when it comes to watching local elections. (This is not everyone’s experience or priority.) And I also believe that, while politics are an opportunity to participate in a process that protects the “common good,” elections are ultimately about values and relationships that can get us toward more just communities, not about feeling like your cheering for a sporting team. (Did I even say that right? I’m not a sports person.)
At the end of the day, I need to find rest and I need to remember what’s at the center. I think that’s true for a lot of ministry work that we do – especially when it has public dimensions, when the world feels heavy, and when we know how much is at stake.
AS THE WHIRRING OF the pottery wheel rises once again, I look down at the lumpy and lopsided ball of clay spinning unevenly in front of me. Before beginning to shape the bowl, first I must center the clay. Pressing in with both hands, I feel the malleable clay move more fully into the center of the wheel. The bumps smooth out, and, with a final push, I feel the unevenness disappear. Letting go, I watch the mound clay almost appear not to move, even as it turns at a high speed. It is centered. Ready once again for the creative balancing act of being pulled outward and formed into a new shape.
“For me, it stems from a commitment to live my faith values through civic participation and dialogue with my neighbors in that process.”
How do you attend to the personal dimensions of your public ministry – the untangling of knots within yourself, the practices that keep you centered during times of intensity, the times that help you heal and rejuvenate? I’m looking forward to diving into this more during the rest and learning of Bishop’s Theological Conference this year at the end of September. Former Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson will be speaking about this very question — the personal dimensions of ministry in times such as this.
Returning to my desk for a new week of work, I pick up my wheel-thrown mug, now fired and filled with hot coffee, and I’m reminded of the action that created it. Breathing in, I think of the calm rhythm of throwing and a newly centered feeling of balance, ever aware of the challenge it is to maintain that center.