It was over a year ago when my husband told me about a pottery class offered through the university. He remembered that throughout the years, I expressed interest in trying pottery. Not because I had shown great artistic talent. I simply had a great interest and with our three children in college, I had fewer excuses.
When signing up for the class I was surprised by the title — “throwing.” I couldn’t envision a potter as someone “throwing” clay into a respectable form. If God is our Potter and we are the clay, then we couldn’t possibly be “thrown” together, but in my very human and messy attempt to create great works of pottery, “throwing” was a more accurate word to describe my beginning work. But with patience and humility, I learned to form and grow pieces of pottery and “throwing” took on a new meaning. More and more pieces collected on my dining room table and a community of dishes, cups and other creations grew.
As I practiced and even brought useful items home, I began to realize and appreciate that what was first required in “throwing” the clay was that desire that brought me there in the first place. Secondly it was with joy, a patient mindset, perseverance and the right focus that I could actually make something in which I found great pride. And most importantly, the third thing I experienced was a feeling of gratitude that my pot, which may have resembled a bowl-like or cup-like object, with all of its lacking of symmetry, creativity and marketability, was admired and valued because of the love of its potter.
Many scriptural analogies convey us as the clay, formed (not thrown) by God, out of Love. And in Pope Francis’ rich apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of Love,” he reminds us that the family is a demonstration of God’s love and joy. I encourage everyone to take the time to read this document about the beauty and dignity of marriage and families. Yet Pope Francis also puts significant focus on the reality of family life, not just its ideal. Many heartfelt challenges and problems of family life were shared with him from Catholics throughout the world.
It is only in our willingness to look at these problems and hear the call for help from these many women, children and men and especially from within ourselves that we can begin to address the “lack of symmetry” that is in contradiction to the dignity given to us in God’s forming.
Violence in many forms was one area that Pope Francis focused on when looking at the challenges faced by children and families. Violence demonstrated through emotional harm, manipulation, physical injury, controlling behavior, sexual coercion and abuse erodes love, trust and safety in marriages and relationships. It can also alter our children’s sense of self respect and their ability to recognize the dignity of everyone. As a result of experiencing violence, many learn that emotional and physical violence are the normal ways of relating and solving problems.
In “The Joy of Love,” Pope Francis calls us personally, as families and as a church, to honestly reflect on our own faults, pain and challenges. He calls us to trust in the God who formed us in love and joy and find the hope and healing that is possible through help from the community and professional support. Healing and reforming ourselves from flaws, whether we are victims or the ones harming, requires honest reflection, trust and risk. It is through this path that we cooperate with God to re-form ourselves into the people who are originally created with dignity and for love.