What Does It Mean to Be Clay?
Yet, LORD, you are our father;
we are the clay and you our potter:
we are all the work of your hand.
From Isaiah 64 tells us that God is the potter and we are the clay. It is not God is the potter and we are the water (though that rhymes nicely), nor God is the Potter and we are the rock (different bit of scripture!) And yet often times we act more like water or like a rock than like clay.
Potters don’t use water because it gives no resistance to change. It parts and rejoins with the greatest of ease, but can hold no shape. Some people are like water- such people are wishy-washy; their yes and no mean nothing, and they shift opinions and positions with the slightest effort. On the one hand they can be easy to get along with; on the other hand they are not reliable.
Potters don’t use rocks because it had too much resistance to change. so they it can’t be shaped at all (Sculptors can work with it by using a hammer and chisel, but that takes a lot of work!) Some people are like rocks; such people hold tight to their position no matter what. They are very reliable, but often difficult to work with and getting them to yield or change when in error is very difficult.
Clay though is different. It can be molded and shaped with some work, but holds its shape. It is a medium that allows the potter to make what he sees become reality. So how do we be “clay” so that God can mold us? What does the Theology of Dance tell us?
Remember that it is the lead’s job to define space and for the follow to fill it. In dance some follows have the bad technique called “noodle arms” (yes that is the technical dance term!) When given a lead their arms collapse like spaghetti. They are like water in the hands of a potter. Because they have no frame (like water’s weak bonds) they offer no resistance, and cannot be shaped by their lead. They can’t even be effectively led around. I could describe their following like sloshing around the dance floor
Followers with overly rigid frames are like rock in the hands of the leader. They are better than noodle arms in that they can be moved around, but they cannot be led into fancy or graceful moves because it takes so much effort to shape them shaped.
But followers with good frame are like clay in the hand of the potter. Like clay have enough strength to hold together but not so much that the shape cannot be changed with a reasonable effort. In dance the follower fills this space in a graceful way by matching the leads resistance equally and oppositely. By doing so she is able to feel whether he is closing the space or opening it up. They can be moved around the dance floor and led through wonderful patterns because they have some resistance but not too much. Like the clay fills the space provided by the potter the follower gently fills the space provided by the lead.
But dance allows us to move beyond the metaphor of the clay and penetrate further into the mystery of our relationship with Christ. If we give no thought to the metaphor of being clay in the hands of God then we might think that being shaped by God is a passive experience, since clay has no will. But if we use dance we understand that in allowing herself to be shaped the follower is not abdicating her will but fully engaging it.
When you walk the first thing that moves is not your foot, but your chest. Once your chest moves a bit then your foot will instinctively move in that direction. I use this to teach my beginner followers. I have them make a frame that is extra rigid, and to have her keep her weight on one foot or the other, leaving the other free. When I move her chest, the foot goes where it is supposed to go.
At this point she is like normal clay because she is denying her will. But as she learns more and more about how to follow, more and more how to read the lead, I teach her to have a frame that is less and less rigid. It will never go back to being water; it will always be stable and will always hold its form. But no longer is her body moving by instinct. It is moving by her choice. Her body flows with the lead because she chooses to. In a sense the follower becomes a living clay. She is no longer denying her will, no longer giving up her will. The will of the leader and the will of the follower are the same, in they have the same goal, which is to be in the dance. Yet they are different, in the sense that each will resides fully and completely in each person, and each will desires the good of the other. Each will desires to give itself to the other.
This is what it means to be a living clay in the hands of God, the potter. God does not give us free will so that we may realize we can’t handle the free will and give it back to him, so we could be his puppets. Rather, he gave us free will with the hope and the faith in us that we will master the gift, and be able to always and everywhere give ourselves to him. God desires not the abdication of our wills but the complete engagement of our wills. Of course, in this world, in this life, that will never happen. But we can learn to get much better at it. Getting better at it is a big part of becoming the follower God desires.