You did not choose me, but I chose you.”
When I first began to work with clay, I quickly learned that the success of the end product depended on the raw materials chosen. In the same way, much of the beauty of the final jar and the success in forming it are due to the properties of the raw clay. Jeremiah’s potter didn’t have the luxury of lugging home a twenty-five-pound bag of commercially prepared earthenware clay, fully wedged and ready to be worked. He quarried his own clay. Great care must have gone into the choosing. Perhaps the potter spent a hot, dirty morning digging deeply into clay deposits in a promising spot, only to finally judge the clay overly crumbly and unsuitable for throwing.
In my own work as a doll sculptor, I cast with porcelain slip made of kaolin clays from Europe. Porcelain is considered the ultimate clay—more translucent and refined than any other. I’m fortunate to live in a day when I don’t have to mine my own clays and create my own slip. Clay companies have geologists and artists who specialize in the development of fine clay. As a sculptor, I know that to create a face that seems to glow from within, I need to choose the clay carefully. Over the years I’ve tested and rejected dozens of clays—too chalky, too dull, too heavy. It takes a far more skillful artist than I to take inferior clay and coax near perfection out of it.
I imagine that day Jeremiah visited the potter’s shed, he missed seeing the potter quarry the clay, but that was nonetheless an important part of the process. Days before Jeremiah’s visit, the potter may have taken his handcart out through the Potsherd Gate to the rich terra-cotta clay deposits in the valley.
Clay comes from the decomposition of igneous feldspar, the most common element of the earth’s crust. It’s formed from the cooling of molten magma thrust up from deep inside the core. Jeremiah’s potter may not have known that his clay was made up of two minerals—alumina and silica—but he knew well how to judge its suitability for his vessels.
When the potter dug into the clay bed, he probably reached down and took a handful to gauge the plasticity of the raw material. Surface clay is usually mixed with too much extraneous matter—humus, soil, roots, and rock. Over the centuries the potter would have stuck with a rich vein and quarried deeper and deeper into the clay deposit. He would have known a good clay must be flexible enough to be thrown without sagging and to join without cracking, but few clays are perfect as found. If the clay is too plastic (too soft to hold shape), the potter will add grog (ground particles of broken pottery) to increase strength.
Our lives are much like the interior clay—filled with imperfections. Yet we are the clay that the Master Potter has chosen. And He is the One who provides the strength and flexibility to the clay. When He sees the sag, He adds grog. When the clay gets too dry, He adds water. What a lesson for us. The Potter is not only in control of the process of forming us, He controls our raw material as well. We need only reach out for His strength and His living water.
We see a powerful spiritual application in the potter’s act of choosing the clay. The potter saw the potential beauty of the imperfect clay. When I take time to contemplate the mystery of the Potter scooping up my claylike self and choosing me for His work in progress, it always begs the question—why me?
The honor bestowed mystifies us. It’s like my very first week in kindergarten at Hawthorne Elementary School in San Francisco. The doors were way too big and way too heavy to open, and I worried about getting shut out or locked in. Scary. I’d never seen so many children together in one room, but the teacher gave us real scissors and delicious-tasting paste. And, best of all, in the middle of discovering all these wonders, my teacher picked me to be milk monitor. Out of all those other children, she picked me! I never forgot that honor, and it colored my whole educational career.
The psalmist takes us there in Psalm 8:4: “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”
In wonder we ask, “Why me?” And it takes a lifetime to absorb the answer. When we begin to grasp the truth, it comes with a Sally Field–like sense of discovery: “You like me. You really like me.”
“I believe the doctrine of election because I am quite sure that if God had not chosen me, I never would have chosen Him; and I am sure He chose me before I was born or else He never would have chose me afterwards.”