Clay and Dough: Suffering and Transformation
There are two things that I have done for the first time during this JVC year: working with clay and making bread. The former was part of a reflection day in which Sr. Helen Kluke, CSJ, guided us through a session of expression, creativity and spirituality; we were able to pray through clay and also to make some practical items.
I did the latter as part of my Becoming Neighbours ministry, it was one day of exploring the spirituality of bread making, led by Bethany Osborne and her husband, in which we learned how to combine, knead and wait.
For me these two experiences were of a deep spiritual meaning and they speak me about our human condition: a constant dance between the struggle and the peace, the destruction and the creation, the cross and the resurrection.
In order to be transformed, the clay and the dough have to feel the power of our hands. At the beginning, that interaction could be quite violent; we need to stir vigorously, mold, destroy, break and punch down. I wonder what kind of feelings and thoughts the clay and the dough would have if they were alive?
Maybe there would be lots of complaints, expressions of anger, tears, and even swearing. They would not be able to tell what is happening with them; what kind of disaster could be causing them such pain? Sometimes in our human lives we experience something similar: we feel destroyed, broken by life.
In the contact with people who experience a great amount of suffering (terminally ill patients, victims of violence, refugees, people with disabilities and those who struggle with mental illness). I have heard many stories like these, lives that have been fired and kneaded harshly.
Sometimes it is discouraging and overwhelming; sometimes we experience that hope losses its power and that the darkness has no end; sometimes the power of destruction seems to be the only thing acting around and within us. Even Jesus experienced it: that sensation of feeling abandoned, rejected and stripped of everything.
But also sometimes if we are willing to wait, we can see that what follows after that is a powerful transformation. The dough starts to rise and to take a fluffy form, and after its immersion in the oven we feel delighted by its smell and taste. The clay stars to take a particular form and by the power of the fire it acquires strength, beauty and purpose.
That is also something that I experience in my life and in the lives of people around me; we are capable of incredible resilience and incredible transformations. Those who have survived the most horrendous violence and suffering can smile and dream again, even with the marks of past wounds, like Jesus. The power of His resurrection is continuously working in us.
As Christians we can find in Jesus the wholeness of the human experience. He embraced everything from the deepest suffering to the greatest glories. By contemplating his passion we can relate to his loneliness, his fear, his humiliation, his pain, his struggle and his death. By contemplating his resurrection we can relate to his joy, his victory and his transformation.
Like the dough and the clay that experience the force of our hands and the heat of the oven, Jesus is for us an example of patience and courage. Like the delicious bread and the beautiful pottery bowl, Jesus is for us an example of hope, victory and purpose.