On those chips and breaks that will happen to our bowls, and ourselves
By Pastor Paul Stumme-Diers
Have you seen the bowls? A month ago congregational members aged 3 to 93 decorated bowls for Bethany to use at our Midweek Lenten Soup Suppers (and Luncheons). If you haven’t seen them, displayed in our fellowship hall, you have missed out on an array of beautiful, individualized pieces of art (which, incidentally, also have held some fantastic soup!).
I picked them up the day before our first soup supper, and when I did, the friendly, kind person at Heart and Soul who had glazed and fired the bowls told me three times; “You have to be careful, because they chip easily. When they do we can bring it into her and she can usually repair them.” She said WHEN, not IF. My response: “Chips Happen.”
When I arrived with the bowls at Bethany, I immediately took the big box to the kitchen. I wanted to see how they turned out, and thought I had better wash them before ladling soup into them. Opening the box, I saw that each one was protectively placed in a bubble-wrapped pouch. I appreciated the care she had shown – it could be they showed extra care when they heard I was picking the up – bit I was also dazzled by the brilliance and the unique expression exuded by each one.
I was inspired to imagine a “theology of bowls” as I unpacked that box, and as you can see, it is a work in progress:
1) “Chips Happen.” I told the woman at the store that we would put people at ease by telling them we were expecting some chips, cracks, and breaks. As a church we are familiar with chips, cracks and breaks, but also with healing and renewal, and a meaning beyond the brokenness.
2) This all is part of the fragility of ceramic bowls. I even gave thought to purposely dropping the one I had made as an object lesson … but I kinda like it too much. We are well aware of our finitude and fragility.
3) On a lighter note, each bowl is unique. In fact, I am amazed at how no two look even remotely alike, and they are all amazing. The words echo from Jesus’ baptism into our own: “You are my child, my beloved, in you I am well pleased.” Unique, beloved, with special characteristic, including a capacity for containing love.
4) If we squint into the colors and designs of the bowls, we are amazed by their transformation since we last saw, and painted them. Then the blurry, dull pastels were not dazzling, and to my untrained eye showed little promise. Ah, but the glaze applied and the fire they endured brought out their brilliance; it made them come alive. Illuminated and tempered and made more colorful by fire – have you seen such qualities in others? I have.
5) The BOWLS ARE HUGE! They are apt reminders of God’s abundance, able to hold enough for two persons. But, as we would say at the table when unexpected guests arrived for a meal: “Hold back.” Even though you can fill it up, and may be able to find room to finish it, be mindful of others, make room for others, share with others – or in a radical notion, perhaps invite them to go ahead of you.
6) Even before considering the size of the bowls, realizing that they are empty marks a beginning. There we recognize our hunger, our need, and we look for a nourishment to fill the emptiness. We find that source, that grace, in God who provides – the Great Soupmaker.
7) These are bowls that belong to community. Individuals put their marks on them, oftentimes including their names or initials, but they have been created to be shared. In the 10 soup suppers I will attend, I will use 10 different bowls, perhaps not one using “my own.” These are creations by and for God’s community at Bethany. At Lent’s end they will be distributed to the homes of their respective artists, but even then they will be community bowls now inhabiting particular homes.
As I am selecting a bowl, as I am filling it, as I am dipping my spoon into it, and as I am washing it afterwards, any given bowl may chip, crack or break. Fear not, for they were made to be used, even though “chips happen.” Those blemishes suggest character and tell us they have been used for what they had been created, and we see in them their beauty, in the glaze of God’s grace.
Bowled over with gratitude,