Father Theophan: Paralyzing Possibility

Pottery and a lump of clay. Courtesy/Father Theophan


Rector of Saint Job of Pochaiv Orthodox Church

Every artist and writer has faced it as some point in their work: blank page, a lump of clay, a white canvas that seems to stretch on forever. Nothing can be as intimidating as the moment before creation, that moment of no return when an idea demands to be brought to fruition or finally scrapped and mourned as lost potential.

Today in my shop I studied a lump of clay. Pugged (yes, it’s a thing), deaired, and perfectly packaged to remain pliable. It was about ten pounds, give or take, of stoneware clay. It sat there, as clay most often does, waiting for the inspiration of the potter, me, in this case.

But what to make? Ten pounds is a lot of clay. All ten could be formed into a flowerpot, a large one, or something else as large. Few things require throwing ten pounds at once.

Broken down into smaller pieces, the possibilities emerge. A coffee mug takes about a pound of clay, a cereal bowl even less. A teapot perhaps? A tea set? Table ware? Or maybe something less useful and more decorative? Tiles? Boxes? Sculpture? The mind reels at the number of possibilities which creep toward infinity. Not only are the categories of forms and ways of forming nearly endless, but the forms themselves, the nuance, thickness, and shape multiply the possible iterations. Don’t get me started on glazing and color choices.

Hear me out. 2020 is a lump of clay. Some would rightly say worse things, I suppose. This year, this thing we have all been going through is the pits. No matter what news outlet you listen to, we don’t know what the future will look like. We are hoping for normal, but is that the old normal, or something slightly different, or something else entirely foreign to our old way of life? When will the economy rebound? When will kids head back to school? Will real, substantial change result from our civil unrest? No one really knows.

We are staring at the future like a lump of clay, a white canvas, a blank page. There are so many things that could happen, and there is no way to tell what good and bad will result. And the good and the bad are often a matter of perspective, just to muddy the waters a bit.

The perfect storm of uncertainty we are in will not be solved by the election in November. The chances of a definitive end to our anxious situation are slim. We need to find our way forward, and if possible, find it forward together. Falling apart is hardly ever the way to creative success. Divisiveness, bitterness, and hostility are not the way forward, not toward any sort of healthy family, community, or society.

Now is the time for change. Not for its own sake, nor for destroying the solid foundations of society, but for reforming those processes that were not serving our whole community. We need to rethink our treatment of those people whose work we have realized is essential. We must re-forge our bonds with our neighbors and community.

The ten pounds of stoneware clay remains on the bench today. My decision-making faculties are exhausted; the muse has retired for the evening, and I can wait to make the choice.

But for us, there will be no better time than now. When institutions and assumptions are showing their fragility, when chaos and uncertainty rule the day, this is the time to recreate them into the better. I sincerely hope we do not pass up this opportunity.