When I am inspired to learn something new, I look around to find someone who shares my interest. Many years ago, I desired to work with clay on a potter’s wheel. Several people suggested I talk to Sister Laurice, a retired art teacher and potter. Her creations were on display in our spirituality center, so I knew she had talent. She happily offered to become my teacher.
Sister Laurice at work in the studio
Walking into the studio, it was clear to me that Sister Laurice was at home in such a creative environment. She nimbly picked up some clay and invited me to do the same. In minutes we were wedging it; clearing it of air bubbles and preparing it for the wheel. Foundation is important. Every potter needs to find their own rhythm and method that works best for them. If you want transformation, you have to put effort into it. With a twinkle in her eye she also suggested that wedging is a way to channel frustration; each thud of the clay against the table to pop the bubbles a great method to letting off a little steam. A small air bubble may seem like no big deal, but if left inside it can later fester into a bigger problem on the wheel. Like life, if something doesn’t feel right, don’t ignore it. Unresolved aggravation will surface sooner or later.
As she explained each step, Sister Laurice’s practiced hands moved with ease on the wheel. In moments, her loaf of clay became a beautiful bowl. Next, it was my turn to try and follow the steps as she talked me through each one. I prayed that the lump of clay I worked with would miraculously look in the smallest way like one of her delicate, symmetrical creations. She patiently invited me to breathe and relax and to guide the clay, not chase it around the wheel. (I did a lot of chasing the first few weeks.) She encouraged me to be strong without force; to lean in but not so far as to fall off balance. When a piece dried and was ready for trimming she filled my head with the importance of clearing away the excess and making a strong foot. “A great shape is hiding. You just need to get a bit of the extra off so you can see it better. The glaze we will apply will highlight your attention to this detail.” As each snippet of advice filled my ears, my mind and heart moved beyond the practicality into the spiritual realm of the wisdom Sister Laurice offered.
Image courtesy pixabay.com
I came to see in Sister Laurice a kindred spirit, someone who also found God in creating. And for me, each new shape of clay mirrored my own transformation as a religious sister.
Now, years later, working on the potter’s wheel has become part of my spiritual practice. The quiet hum is like a bell calling me to prayer. With each rotation, I concentrate on beauty even in the midst of challenges. Clay is a wonderful reflector. When I am pushing too hard it collapses; when I am not concentrating it becomes uneven and loses symmetry. Yet when I remember to breathe and stay present in the moment, I am amazed at the results. As the clay transforms before my eyes, it becomes an experience of oneness. Each piece holds a memory of my prayer that day — a call for newness, wholeness.
Sister Laurice returned to the hands of her Creator on November 6, 2017. It has been a difficult loss. I choose to remember her when I sit at the wheel.
Sister Laurice Heybl, FSPA
I am reminded of the experience of Sister Laurice’s mentorship, friendship and accompaniment today as we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation (LK 1:39-56). In the Gospel, Luke shares with us the story the encounter of Mary and Elizabeth, two pillars of faith. Elizabeth is a seasoned woman of devotion who has seen and experienced many things in her life. Bright-eyed Mary is enthusiastic for the adventures that lie ahead. Both women answer God’s call in their lives and find support and encouragement in one another as they discover the joys and challenges of fulfilling their yes to God. Each of these women share something in common and, at the same time, develop their own artistic way of living into the commitment they had each made to God.
Mentors and friends can be helpful in discernment. They can offer wisdom from their experience and be a great listening ear when needed.
Who have been the mentors and friends in your life, perhaps modeling a sense of being in discernment?
How has your discernment mirrored others, and how has your discernment been unique?
*Do you know someone experiencing discernment of religious life? We invite you to share this link, www.fspa.org/showmeasign, and join the conversation.