Saturday, January 31, 2009


I slept but my heart was awake. Listen! My lover is knocking: "Open to me, my sister, my darling, my dove, my flawless one. My head is drenched with dew, my hair with the dampness of the night." ~Song of Solomon 5:2

Potters know what all lovers know, the sacred art of opening. Once clay is centered on a potter’s wheel it is still just a lump of clay, waiting the next stage of formation. The second movement of clay involves the potter’s hands, specifically his thumbs, placed upon the center of the lump, pressing down, digging into heart of clay towards the base. Once the potter has dug into the heart of the clay to open a well, the clay is then stretched out from the center, spreading open the clay, making room for growth. By the time the clay has been opened, the lump looks like a donut sitting on a clay base.

What has opened up your life to spiritual growth? Who do you allow to dig down into your core of your life? What life experiences have stretched you to become more open, allowing space within your life for spiritual growth? In my experience with people, it is often the presence of unasked for pain, suffering or loss that opens people up to make space for inner growth.

Odd. The thing that most defines a clay pot is not clay but the empty space. There is a via negativia in pottery, an upside down truth in this second movement of spiritual formation. The centering of the clay prepares for opening. The opening of the clay creates negative space allowing it to become a place of beauty and usefulness. When we make space for spiritual formation, we allow the negative forces as well as the positive forces in our life to open us, stretch us and help us to grow.

The ancient love song above sings of the great movement of the human heart, to open to another out of love. God, our bridegroom knocks on the door of our heart. We are invited to open our hearts. We gain greater capacity to love, to risk and to trust. We make space for God within our inmost being. We make space for others to love and be loved.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Painting by Stefan Robinson

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Thomas Kelly, 20th century Quaker writer and visionary, writes about life at the Center: “Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continuously return.”[1] When working on a pottery wheel, if you can’t center the clay, you might as well hang up your apron. Centering clay looks so easy when an expert potter is at the wheel. Then you sit behind the wheel yourself and the fun begins. Finding the center of the spinning wheel is easy. Wet your finger and place it on the wheel. Move it slightly until you see a small dot on the wheel. That’s the center. Now, throw your prepared clay ball onto that dot, cone it up, press it down, cone it up, press it down. This process is the way potters center the clay. Potters, pastors, prophets and poets all have a nose for the Center. They are not afraid of finding the Center and heading in that direction. What is central to your life? What motivates me to do what I do? Another way of finding the center is asking, “What is my purpose, focus, balancing point?” There is a Center to life. The labor of centering involves learning to yield, to allow our life to be shaped by unseen “hands”, experiencing the pressures from opposite sides of our life pull and press us toward that unseen Center. Spirituality is all about this re-centering, of allowing our lives to be moved towards the Center. Habits that help humans move towards the center include prayer, meditation, breathing as focusing, and releasing our need to control by yielding. Kelly calls this spiritual movement of the heart a “centering down, when life is lived with singleness of eye, from a holy Center where the breadth and stillness of Eternity are heavy upon us and we are wholly yielded to Him. Some of you know this holy, recreating Center of eternal peace and joy and live in it day and night. Some of you may see it over the margin and wistfully long to slip into that amazing Center where the soul is at home with God” (Testament, 74).
[1] Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1941), 29.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


One of my friends, Jay Stewart, is a professional potter. Jay makes throwing clay pots on a wheel look easy. As someone who owns a pottery wheel, I know that throwing clay shapes on a wheel is difficult, bordering on impossible. I’ve taken pottery classes to learn to do the impossible. After about ten hours of instruction during the first three weeks of classes, I’d finally made something that looked like a pathetic coffee mug without a handle. The potter-instructor did not allow us to keep anything for the first several weeks. Whenever we triumphed over the dueling forces of gravity and centripetal motion by successfully raising a cylinder, the instructor came along with his wire and cut the pot in half to reveal the inconsistency of our walls. He was a good teacher, knowing full well that weak walls in a pot would not withstand the pressure of the kiln.

Pottery is one of the oldest crafts known to humanity. The Bible describes God as a Potter who shaped Adam out of clay and breathed life into his nostrils. The name Adam, in the original language, literally means ‘red clay’. Humanity is an odd mix of earth and spirit, designed and inspired by God. Perhaps as a way to return the favor, nearly every human culture since prehistoric times have left evidence of pottery as part of their daily life. Pots have been used for millennium to carry water, store food, cook, hold grain, wash, bathe the body and even bury the dead. Hearth, home, thirst, hunger, comfort, preservation, survival and death. All these are associated with pottery from ancient times. The first appearance of a potter’s wheel was 6000 years ago in the Middle East. The oldest glazed and fired pottery dates back to 5000 years ago in Egypt. To this day, all around the world among developing people, pottery ranks as one of the most essential trades in a village.

In the time of the prophet Jeremiah, the LORD told him to “Go down to the potters house, and there I will give you my message”. So Jeremiah went to the house of the potter to learn important life truths from the hands of the craftsman in clay. Jeremiah observed the potter center the clay upon the wheel, open and shape the clay into the form intended. “But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.” Then God declares to Jeremiah a prophetic word to pass along to his people: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does? Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”

One of my earliest personal connections with ancient pottery involved a pot made in 75AD in southern France. In 1976, as a second year college student, I was studying archeology in southern England. Part of the class was to work at an archeology dig, the site of a Roman trading post at a major crossroad in ancient times. Our work was to scrape away a quarter of an inch of dirt at a time from our square meter within the site and report anything we found to the British archeologist heading up the place. I ran into a pot from Gaul, easily identified by the unique markings about the rim. The pot was about the size of a grapefruit and had not been touched by human hands for 1900 years. There it sat in my hands, exposed to the light of day after 19 centuries lying buried six feet below the surface of an English field.

Since that time, I’ve purchased my own potter’s wheel and kiln, and made various awkward attempts at throwing clay pots. As I’ve come to learn, all wheel pottery can be understood by three basic movements of clay: centering, opening and shaping. Get these three movements of the spirit figured out and you’ll also know Jeremiah’s secret to the spiritual life: our lives are in good hands, the hands of the Master Potter. By the way, if you are ever in Cannon Beach, Oregon, drop to visit my potter friend's shop, aptly named, House of the Potter.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Cathédrale St-Jean in Lyon

Cathédrale St-Jean in Lyon - St. John's Cathedral


Wilt thou love God as he thee ? then digest,
My soul, this wholesome meditation,
How God the Spirit, by angels waited on
In heaven, doth make His temple in thy breast.
The Father having begot a Son most blest,
And still begetting—for he ne'er begun—
Hath deign'd to choose thee by adoption,
Co-heir to His glory, and Sabbath' endless rest.
And as a robb'd man, which by search doth find
His stolen stuff sold, must lose or buy it again,
The Sun of glory came down, and was slain,
Us whom He had made, and Satan stole, to unbind.
'Twas much, that man was made like God before,
But, that God should be made like man, much more.

Photo, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, by Thomas Robinson;
Holy Sonnet XV
, by John Donne (1572-1631), Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, 1621-1631.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Sunset Stroll


Maybe you don't make New Years resolutions. I don't either. It may be a good idea though to consider ways to care for your soul at the beginning of 2009. In summary of the last several months of Cannon Beach log posts, I offer ten creative ways to care for your soul this new year. Cannon Beach Log rolled over our first year of blogging this week. Thanks for coming in for a visit!


· Accept the present moment as an empty chalice waiting to be filled with God’s spiritual refreshment.

· Find the balancing point and move quietly to the center.

· Unplug your life.

· Fill the cracks in your day with vision, God’s Word and creativity.

· Take five.

· Live playfully and intentionally with others.

· Look up at the “star-snowed fields of sky”.

· Cultivate wonder.

· Pay attention to children, especially those in distress.

· Live with grace upon grace.