It’s early and the African sun is stretching and the monkeys are making a racket in the banana trees and Liz is feeding the cat and Thomas Merton and Old Man Jeremiah, today’s reading, dance in my head.
Merton says that faith is all about discomfort and struggle and don’t let anyone sell you a bag of goods otherwise. The peace, he says, comes through the struggle.
Meanwhile, Jeremiah that old Hebrew prophet, shares that one day he found himself knocking on the door of the local potter, which at that time in that part of the world meant going to the other side of the tracks to spend some time with the lowlifes, the low-class tradesmen who put their hands to the mud of the earth to try to make something worthwhile of it.
And as he sat there with pencil and notepad in hand like some scrubby reporter – apparently under divine compulsion – and as he watched the potter at his wheel, Jeremiah noticed that whenever the pot turned out badly, the potter would simply start over and use the same clay to make another pot.
Now other studies have apparently been done on this, on making pots – it applies to any sort of art, really — how you can spend 50 days on one pot trying to perfect it; or, on the other hand, how you can make a new pot every day for 50 days, smashing each pot to pieces to then start afresh the next day.
At the end of 50 days, which pot do you gather is best? Yes, the one that has come after 49 smashed predecessors, not the single pot worked and worked and worked on. This has actually been tried and proven.
Which, it seems, is what Thomas Merton is saying. The discomfort of faith has great value, even if nobody would argue that if you were a pot, it wouldn’t be very pleasant to be smashed over and over.
So when I look over at my daughter and pray for her own faith life, I suppose this is what I’m really praying for. But I’m not. What loving parent would? For your child, the one that is yours to nurture and grow and protect, to be broken?
What other choice is there? What other choice, when He is the potter and you – and she – are the clay?