The Potter and the Spirit

Wednesday, March 13, 2013 — Week of 4 Lent (Year One)

James Theodore Holly, Bishop of Haiti, and of the Dominican Republic, 1911

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 954)

Psalms 101, 109 (morning) 119:121-144 (evening)

Jeremiah 18:1-11

Romans 8:1-11

John 6:27-40

I’ve watched a potter spinning clay, carefully shaping a design that I don’t yet see. I’ve seen when things go awry. I remember a tall vase-like clay structure that became unbalanced. It began to wobble on the spinning table, and the top of it became distorted. Its neck began to bend and the top become disfigured as it flopped ungainly. Then the potter suddenly smashed the soft clay into a lump and started over, hands gently, persistently molding again until a lovely, balanced vase appeared from the lump and took shape. The potter didn’t seem mad, or upset. Maybe a touch of frustration. But with equanimity and patience she continued to touch and coax the clay into the lovely vision she had hoped for. She was not to be denied.

Jeremiah reflects on a similar experience and uses it as an analogy for Israel and for any nation. Can God not do what the potter does? asks Jeremiah. If a people will not conform to the divine image of justice and goodness, “I will pluck up and break down and destroy it,” (18:7b) as the potter who takes a spoiled vessel and reworks it into another vessel. (18:4) The clay remains, but if it becomes misshaped, it is destroyed and recreated into its original intended design.

There may be a relationship here with Paul’s conversation about “flesh” and “Spirit.” He contrasts walking in the flesh with walking in the Spirit. “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” In Galatians 5:19-23, Paul describes in more detail what that looks like. The works of the flesh are unbalanced, distorted and disfigured, and they produce human ugliness. Paul speaks of the death that comes through the flesh — “the body is dead because of sin.” (Romans 8:10) Yet, even though the body may be dead because of sin, “the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” (10b) It is the righteousness of Jesus that Paul speaks of. And so, God gives us new life through Jesus, not unlike the potter who reworks the same clay into its intended form.

God is an infinitely persistent potter. Over and over Paul insists that God will recreate “all things” in Christ.

Unlike the dead lump of clay, we have a part to play in this. We can live by the Spirit. We can set our minds on the things of the Spirit — “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and temperance.” (Galatians 5:22) As the wheel turns in each moment of our lives, we can be entirely in that moment with our mind set on these things. That moment is a moment in the Spirit. And we are being touched gently by God.

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