Father Theophan: Stuck

A mug damaged from getting stuck to the kiln shelf during glazing. Photo by Fr. Theophan

By Father Theophan
Saint Job of Pochaiv Orthodox Church
Los Alamos

Stuck. After all that work! Really?!

Finally you’ve finished a mug that you really like. The form and weight are good, it’s even and finished and gone through the bisque firing without a crack or blemish. You’ve picked out the perfect glaze combination, maybe even formulated your own glazes, to make a usable and pleasing every-day use coffee mug.

The glaze firing goes off without a hitch, and it reaches temperature within the allotted time. You checked all the boxes.

And there, before your expectant eyes, is a mug, completely fused to the kiln shelf. The glazes ran. When a glaze reaches the maturation temperature, it becomes molten. Partially glass, partially clay, but at 2,000°F+ it is fluid. Lava comes to mind. Under perfect conditions, the fluid glaze turns to a beautifully colored glass and flows just a bit. Under sub-optimal conditions (too slow a firing, unexpected fluxing of a glaze mixture, the wrong atmosphere, etc.) a glaze can shimmy right off the pot and when it cools and hardens, fuse directly to the kiln shelf.

Depending on the severity of the mishap, the pot might be saved, but not often. Potters coat their kiln shelves in “kiln-wash” which is a white, powdery wash that doesn’t melt and allows glaze drips to be scraped (sometimes chiseled) off. Grinding with an angle-grinder is sometimes necessary.

It is disappointing when everything was going so well. It’s an unexpected slap in the face when all the best laid plans and days of expectation are met with failure.

But that is life. It is not often perfectly fair. ‘

We are told that it rains on the just and the un-just alike. When that phrase was coined, it was the rain the farmers and shepherds were hoping for.

Life isn’t fair, anyone who says differently is selling something. Or something like that. We should be rewarded with good things when we work hard and do good. When we slack off or do something not-so-good, we expect to be lucky or at least overlooked.

But life has a way of slapping us down when we are not humble, and it is that humility we all need. Humility is the only way we learn anything. If I am supremely confident in my information, in my intellect, in my own person, I won’t recognize any insufficiency and there is no room for growth. If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room … or you think too much of yourself.

Remain humble my friends. We don’t know everything. We can’t see the future, for good or ill. And things have a way of going sideways when we least expect it, or turning out well despite our lack of attention.

Grinding and sanding kiln shelves, wearing the face shield, respirator, and ear plugs, covered in shards of glass and powder, is a wearisome way to learn humility, but boy do you learn it well.