Back to School
—Kate Harrison, 4 September 2016
“So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.”
I remember watching my children on their first days at school going in through those big doors. For any of you who don’t know, I’ve got three children. The eldest is 17. No, I know I don’t look old enough. It’s very kind of you to say so, though. That first day of school was horrible for me with the first child. It didn’t get any easier with the second. And it didn’t get even the slightest bit easier with the third. I knew they were safe at school. I knew they’d be happy. It wasn’t as if they had been attached to me 24 hours a day before then. They had all been to pre-school. It was just that I knew that once they were in the school system, I would have less influence on them. Someone I didn’t even know would be spending more waking hours a day with my children than I would be. Someone else would be moulding my little perfect human beings. They would be influenced by teachers and school-mates and I would no longer be the main person to direct their ideas and their morals. What if someone turned them into a bully or someone who wasn’t kind or tolerant of other people’s differences? What if they became someone I didn’t recognise anymore. As my mother in law used to say: There is only one perfect child in the world…and every mother has it. But what if my perfect child was changed?
But, do you know what? They have all made me so proud. That lovely funny little boy is now a lovely funny, warm, compassionate young man who seems to know something about everything and would do anything if you needed his help. That strong-willed little girl is now growing into a young woman with a strong sense for justice who fights for the rights of others. That lovely little energetic bundle is finding new ways to make people laugh every day and is growing so much in her passion for finding how the world works…
Why was I ever worried? But I forgot one thing. The image of the potter. Who wants to help me explain?
All the children are called to the front and given a block of plasticine
Can you make a bowl out of that piece of plasticine?
Someone else, make a snowman…
Someone else, make a tree…
While you’re doing that…look at this piece of stone: If a sculptor saw this they would look at it, turn it around a few times, and see what is inside it. I heard a sculptor saying that they don’t make a sculpture from a piece of stone. They release what is in there. This piece of stone may be a swan hiding in pieces of rock which need to be chipped away.
Let’s have a look at the plasticine.
Perfect! Now, tell me, what did you use to make this perfect creation? Did you add anything?
You see, that’s the same as the potter we heard about in the reading from Jeremiah this morning. A good potter knows that everything they need to make the perfect vessel is in the clay already. All he or she has to do is support it as it takes its shape and to gently mould it, providing the structure. The sculptor knows that the perfect form is waiting there in the stone. All they have to do is release it. (Of course, it’s not as easy as that makes it sound! It takes immense skill and knowledge.) But as I waved each of my children off to school on their first ever day…and as I wave them off on the first day of term every school year…even that big 17 year old who’s about to start his final year of A levels…I have to remember that they are in the hands of potters. They are in the hands of wonderful talented teachers…and they are in the hands of the greatest teacher of all, the teacher who created them and knows the form He intends them to take.
Their teachers, like God, understand that they have the perfect children in front of them. They mould them, support them, help them to become the perfect shape that is good. If we put ourselves into the hands of God the way we put our children into the hands of the wonderful teachers we have in our schools, allow ourselves to be moulded and shaped, supported to grow, we will become pleasing and perfect vessels.
God made us perfect. We are His clay: But, of course, clay can only be moulded when it is still soft. If we harden ourselves and refuse to yield to our creator, to His will, we will remain misshapen. The ingredients are all there. But we have to be malleable, to listen, to discern what is our perfect shape. It is only when we allow the potter to shape us that we can achieve the full beauty that is there. We can trust God to make us what we are intended to be. Not adding anything to us, when we put ourselves in His hands, but simply drawing out what was there all along.
And so, if everyone who has brought their school bag or pencil case wants to come up to the front, let’s dedicate ourselves this school year to be moulded by the potter and to ask God’s blessing on our learning and growth…
The school bags and pencil cases are blessed.