By Michelle Francl-Donnay
I went down to the potter’s house and there he was, working at the wheel. Can I not do to you, house of Israel, as this potter has done? says the Lord. Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel. – Jer. 18:3,6
Snow days smell of cinnamon in my house. The sudden gift of a day without classes or tech call for the latest drama production lends itself to slow things, like the baking of cinnamon rolls, which must be left to rise three times.
As the snow sifted over the driveway, I pulled out flour and butter and eggs and set to work, not bothering to put on an apron. Soon the counters looked as if the storm had moved inside, and my attempts to knead the bread without getting flour on my just-washed jeans were falling flat. The neater I tried to be, the harder it was to really stretch and shape the dough. And every effort I made to keep the cinnamon filling from dotting my pristine white turtleneck went for naught.
As I stretched and turned the dough I thought about the images in Isaiah and Jeremiah of God as the potter. Of the wheel turning as God’s feet kept time on the treadle. Of God’s hands covered in wet clay, His face speckled with the spray from the wheel. And His hands firmly shaping and reshaping, until His creation emerges.
These images remind me that God does not hold us – His creations – at arms length. God is actively shaping me, unafraid of getting splattered in the process. And it made me wonder if I am too worried about being careful with God, too worried about the mess to allow God to shape and reshape me.
Dumping the dough on the counter after its first rise, I could feel the warm dough come to life under my hands. In Genesis we are reminded that from the beginning we are made from the clay of the earth, by God’s hand, in God’s likeness. And if I am made in God’s own image, I imagine I am also made to work in clay and earth and flour, to get my hands dirty.
In a reflection on physical labor, “The Practice of Carrying Water,” Barbara Brown Taylor writes of cleaning the bathrooms in her parish’s homeless shelter: “Scrubbing the bowls one by one, I thought of Saint Francis kissing lepers….I thought of Mother Teresa bathing the dying of Calcutta. By the time I reached the third bowl I was entirely out of spiritual fantasies, free to remember that … I was made of the same stuff as other humans.”
We are all clay. Being potters in the image of the Potter, we are not meant to hold each other at arms length either. Am I unwilling to dig into the earth and do some of the labor God does? To think first about others and less about what I look like?
By the time I reached the third rise of the rolls, I was also out of spiritual reflections – and covered in flour from head to toe. I finally gave in and simply delighted in making a mess of counters and clothes both. Trying to keep the mess at arms length was ultimately impossible. God isn’t worried about keeping His hands clean, why should I?
God our Father, gifts without measure flow from your goodness to bring us your peace. Our life is your gift. Guide our life’s journey, for only your love makes us whole. Keep us strong in your love. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen. – Opening prayer for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Michelle Francl-Donnay is a member of Our Mother of Good Counsel Parish in Bryn Mawr. She can be reached at: email@example.com.
In a time to build, CatholicPhilly.com connects people and communities
As society emerges from the loss and separation of the pandemic, CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you join in our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community.
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103