The Potter’s Hands
Out of the very circumstances we regret, might not OUR greatest triumphs grow?
HOW MANY OF US today have the chance of watching a potter at work with his wet clay. So, unlike Omar Khayyam, we lose the chance of philosophising as he did when he wrote:
For in the Market-place, one Dusk of Day
I watch’d the Potter thumping his wet Clay:
And with its all-obliterated Tongue It murmur’d-”Gently, Brother,
Yet all of us who aspire toward some purpose in life must also have murmured to the hands of fate Gently Brother, gently, pray! But could the clay have seen the design in the mind of the Potter, would it have withheld its plea?
Our aspirations are not gentle with us. Our nature and our past are too often in rebellion with the direction we choose. Whatever it is that we ask of Life; whatever shape or design we visualise for ourselves, each necessitates our being moulded, and sometimes thumped into shape. Or it might even be that the Potter has a design in mind that we cannot ourselves conceive, and if we are not plastic in Its hands, we have to be softened up by the methods Life knows so well.
It may even seem as if from the very moment we asked Life for the best things, it precipitated us into the worst. Often, in being changed from clay into a vessel fit to hold wine we will feel as if we are regressing instead of progressing. The clay, after all, has first to be made pliable, then reshaped. I do not wish to dwell too long on this note, but the inner confusion, pain, self disgust, and cynicism may be so great that it is not just a plea for gentleness. Rather the cry asking the Potter to “STOP!”, to give us peace, to let us rest is sometimes forced out of us. Yet we receive only what we have asked-only what is a natural result of our real wishes.
It is well then to consider something of the outcome of such moulding. The process may be painful, but what of the result?
Such thoughts first came to me while I was talking to Mary Peto. She published that little book, Case for Reincarnation by Reverend Leslie D. Weatherhead, that has sold thousands of copies and achieved so much good. Written by an orthodox Christian Anglican minister, it has reached people who would otherwise never have considered the subject. Mary Peto, the daughter of a vicar, received the orthodox – upbringing. Few realise what a struggle is involved in breaking the barriers of such a childhood. Yet within herself she wrestled to achieve a broader Christianity and a freedom of belief. The outcome is that she is particularly responsive to the doubts and troubles that beset the Christian who seeks to find the mystic core of their own belief.
There are a thousand cases of everyday men and women whose circumstances and experience have enabled them to satisfy the most intimate aspects of their nature. There are great names, too, in the list, great because they have allowed the very thumps of life to mould them and move them into their field of achievement.
The little French boy with the lovely brown eyes, little realised his destiny as he ran off with his father’s sharp saddle-making awls. In his laughing flight he fell, and one eye was destroyed, and the other later became blind. But that moment of pain brought new sight to thousands. Of course, his name was Louis Braille, and his great misfortune, his unrest were moulded into a vessel. The vessel was his intense aspiration to devise a code for the blind to read. All one summer he had tried, but each effort was a failure He had thought of codes using pieces of raised leather in circles, triangles, and squares for the different letters, but they were clumsy, heavy, and impractical. Each attempt only served to increase his bitterness and sense of failure.
That was the vessel into which the wine was poured The idea came while he sat in a Paris cafe’ with a friend who was reading to him from the daily newspaper Can you imagine his mind, made fertile by so many painful failures, exploding with realisation? The paper reported that a French Army captain had devised a system of writing in raised dots and dashes to send messages by Morse code in darkness. It could thus be read without using a light.
On hearing this, Braille actually began to shout and bang the table with his fists and had to be quieted by the proprietor. Later, after spending years promulgating his system and at last finding acceptance, lie said, “This is the third time in my life I have permitted myself to weep. First when I was blinded, second when I heard about the ‘night writing,’ and now because I know my life was not a failure.” A few days later he died.
There are others-many of them: Helen Keller, deaf, dumb and blind, who from her very pit of darkness created a new hope for all of those with similar disabilities, them there is Starr Daily, one of America’s toughest prisoners. Through planning a mass jail break. using violence, he was sent to solitary confinement. Kept there longer than is normal on the meagre diet. lie became sick and on the verge of death. Only then did he look back in retrospect on his life in a new way.
He suddenly realised, as death faced him, that all his life he had been an exceedingly energetic man. But how had this energy been used-only destructively and to cause pain and misery to those around him. He says, “I began to wonder what would have happened if I had used my powers for something other than destruction.” Then, in a waking dream he had a vision of Jesus. “He paused by my side,” he says, “and looked deep into my eyes as though He were trying to penetrate my soul. In all my life I had never seen or felt such love.”
His life was spared, and from that time on he remodelled his way of life, thus having five years subtracted from his sentence. At his release, he started to write books encouraging prison reform and hope for inmates Who better than he could see into the problems they would face and say the words of encouragement to lift them over the obstacles?
We may not have the experience of Braille, the resilience of Helen Keller, or the circumstances of Starr Daily, but we do have something-we have our life! Do we have to travel abroad to find the type of life experience that will be of value to thousands? Do we have to adopt strange modes of behaviour to find value in our life? No. The very circumstances amid environment that pummel us, are also at work in the lives of teeming thousands all over the world. If you can find wonder in the very ordinariness of it, if you cannot find opportunity even iii failure and poverty, or find release from the pains and fears pressed on you by life and your own nature, then you are full of promise and hope for others.
Whether you are a housewife combating loneliness and the urge to vegetate, a husband finding love for his wife and meaning in his marriage, or one with mental problems learning to find a way through them, then life is forming in you a new tongue to speak words that others so long to hear. Your life will say to them It can be done.
But let us not suppose, even for a moment that the people we have mentioned became perfect and were without the tensions, moments of despair, and inner turbulences of ourselves. For even the greatest, though they understand, still look up to the Potter and sometimes whisper with us, Gently, Brother, gently, pray!