By the Reverend Phil Wales
As school and college students finish off their studies for another year they are no doubt looking forward to their summer holidays. These formative years are, of course, hugely important and we, in the west, are extremely fortunate in having such highly developed and inclusive education provision. Over many years we are nurtured, guided and equipped with the knowledge and skills that we’ll need throughout the rest of our lives. For many young people the end of the summer term involves sitting exams, the results of which will have big implications. The end of the school year also brings with it a whole host of celebratory events where students’ achievements are applauded.
With this in mind I was privileged to attend an awards ceremony at a local secondary school a few weeks ago. It had been 3 years since the last event because of the interruption to school life caused by the pandemic. Many happy students received commendations for their progress in different subjects and other prizes were given for various initiatives that the students had undertaken. For example one group of courageous young learners had lobbied successfully for changes to the school’s policies around sustainable living. The tributes paid to them by their teachers were both heartfelt and heart-warming.
Yet as we clapped enthusiastically I wondered about those other students who may not have won an award but whose lives and progress in school are just as much a cause for celebration and thanksgiving. There will be many whose growth will even more remarkable than those we honoured but these pupils may not fall neatly into the expected educational milestones set. We’re each formed as people through our family relationships, friendships, circumstances, our natural talents and the obstacles we face and overcome. Our lives, our identities, are given to us by God who shaped us from the very stuff of creation itself. And so, wherever our starting place we are each a work in progress. The famous verse from the prophet Isaiah speaks of God, our creator, as a potter:
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
This striking metaphor, being moulded and shaped by God, is one which is found in numerous books in the Bible, beginning, of course, in the book of Genesis when God formed the first human from the dust of the earth.
It is a powerful image, yet, it also may hint that the process of moulding is fixed and irreversible. Clay, once dried, holds the form it was given. But this shaping is not a once and for all process otherwise we would simply be unable to adapt to the challenges that life offers us.
The ancient Japanese art of repairing pottery, kintsugi, captures this sense of becoming transformed through our experiences in a surprising way. Kintsugi (‘golden joinery’) involves the remaking of ceramics which have become broken or damaged. However, rather than repair the object in such a way that tries to conceal the ‘imperfections’ the fractures are, instead, mended with gold making them highly visible. Doing so highlights them and so reveals something wonderfully new and beautiful. This remaking points to God being at work in each of our lives, all throughout our lives, and so we never cease to be a work in progress in the hands of God, our Father and our maker.