Father Theophan: 100 Bowls

Bowls made by Father Theophan as part of  his 100 bowl goal. Photo by Father Theophan 

By Father Theophan
Saint Job of Pochaiv Orthodox Church
Los Alamos

So, I’ve gotten it in my head to make bowls for a “Souper Bowl Sunday” next year, or an “Empty Bowls” project. Which means, lots of bowls. I figure if I can make 100 bowls between now and next spring, even if I can’t get any other potters on board, I could raise some good money for a worthy cause.

One hundred of anything is a daunting task for someone who is not a production potter by any metric. 

I try not to let reality rain on my parade.

Bowls are so simple and so ubiquitous. We use them every day and they are one of the first forms that potters make. We start with cylinders and centrifugal force make them bowls almost of their own accord. The spinning of the wheel wants to force the clay outward, and much of the beginning of pottery is learning to work against or harness that force. 

So it should be easy.

The clay comes in 50-pound boxes comprised of two bags of clay. A piano wire stretched between two handles makes cutting blocks of clay easy, and I weigh out equal pieces. A small bowl requires about 18 ounces of clay. Equal amounts of clay make for more uniform pieces. Much of that is water weight and some will be trimmed away in the process, but the finished bowls will weigh about a pound each once glaze is applied. 

It should be easy, but there are so many things that can go wrong.

Air bubbles, too thin a bottom, uneven or too quick drying, warping, etc. ad nauseum. 

I know how to do this. I’ve been doing it on and off for 25 years. The kiln is full of almost dry bowls. I’ll wait another day before firing it to make sure. But there is so much that can go wrong, even with the stuff that seems mundane. 

Our lives are so precarious, so contingent, so fleeting. If we’re not careful it may seem pointless. 

“This life, which had been the tomb of his virtue and of his honour, is but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” -Macbeth

We each must find meaning where we can, and we find it in better or worse places. I know where I have found it, but that is not where most will find it. 

In this broken and tenuous world, I trust in a loving God. But this world is not just a holding tank for eternity. We have been created here, placed here intentionally, to exercise our free will and become what we have the potential to become.

Struggle, overcoming adversity, opposing the entropy inherent in our universe, whatever it’s called, we’re used to it. It’s how we live. It’s how we grow. And it is why death is so frightening, because it ends the struggle, and we lose all of this.

There is hope and new life, but there is loss. 

I could open the kiln to 25 perfect bowls, or to a pile of broken shards. I will be elated at the first possibility and upset by the second, but either way, I will make more, learn more, be better, until I can’t do it anymore.