A Clemmons Studio Update
A major part of our family’s life ‘on mission’ is Erin’s vocation as an artist. Two weeks ago, she had the opportunity to speak with a women’s recovery home about a sculpture she made, based on the Gospel story of the woman at the well:
I’ve often wanted to write about my ceramics, but the truth is, I have trouble finding enough rhythm in my studio practice to make it happen. I have trouble finding rhythm in most of my life. Rhythm comes in short snippets of time, and usually, if it comes, it means production in the studio is flowing, not computer tasks. The extra stuff–photographing, developing portfolio/website, writing–just takes a back seat and ends up getting done only if it’s essential. I’ve been so thankful for the extra time while the kids are at preschool. It’s about 12 hours a week, eight of those hours I have Virgil. And there have been several discouraging sick days. Discouraging, first, because preschool is a financial investment for us, and second, because I feel like I’ve failed my children’s immune systems.
But when things are going according to plan, (and Virgil is a good obedient child when I instruct him to take a long morning nap) those hours are packed full of hands-on making. They’re too precious to be used on extra stuff. So, when to write… I cannot multitask while reading or writing. Unlike my husband who can be fully engrossed in a book while utter chaos is happening around him, and praise the Lord he can. A lot of his seminary work gets done with one child crying at his feet, one climbing on his back, and the third crumpling all his papers. I exaggerate, but not really. So, how do I solve this problem? Get up at 5am, of course. Well, it was 6am, but kids don’t get the memo on daylight savings, so 5am it is. Virgil is often my little alarm clock. He’ll wake up around the time I want to get up. I’ll feed him, and put him back down. Sometimes when I walk by Eleanor and Ames’ room I’ll see the faint light of the book light that Eleanor got for her birthday a few weeks ago, and I’ll hear the familiar sound of pages turning. This girl is unstoppable. We debated letting her have a light because we do actually want her to sleep, but we realized she just reads in the dark, holding the book up to the window to gather the faintest light. So the book light will hopefully save her eyes, at least.
None of that is why I’m writing now. I’m writing now about my sculpture Living Water. Doing figurative sculpture full time is a dream of mine. Right now, I do it on the side. And really it serves a very important function. Particularly, with Living Water, based on the Samaritan woman at the well, who is part of an unfinished series on the women who met Jesus. There’s only two right now. The important thing is while I was making the two I have, I had no intention of ever selling them. Any maker or artist will tell you it just makes a difference, you wish it didn’t but it does. It doesn’t mean the pieces you’re selling aren’t meaningful for you. It just means: do it well, but get it done. This mostly applies to functional work. Sculpture can be priced higher, so taking your time is more reasonable. Living Water took a lot of time, she was a therapeutic process for me. She was about meditating of the story of the Samaritan woman and her encounter with Jesus at the well.
I have a dear friend–a mentor–at church who frequently volunteers at a local drug recovery women’s home, The Foundry. When I told Betsy about Living Water she insisted I come and talk to the women. I was excited by the prospect. I’d really like to get more comfortable speaking to groups, and I haven’t had any opportunities to do so in a long time. We set a date in early October, and I started writing. The more I prepared the worse I felt. Why would these women care about what I have to say? They’ll probably hate that they have to listen to another talk about Jesus.
I knew I didn’t want it to feel like a Bible study. Bible studies are great, but I’m coming to show them my sculpture, and tell them about it. But also to tell them about the story of this woman who met Jesus. Another tricky part was that I don’t know any of these women, and really don’t want to make assumptions about who they are. I can assume they’ve had a hard life, or at least a hard season. And while I’ve never experienced drug addiction myself, I have had hard seasons. So I wrote it all out, the evening arrived, and here I was–in front of a group of about 30 women awkwardly holding a sculpture. One woman asked if I wanted “something to set that on”, and while she was getting a table, a woman asked, “Did you make that?” At my response, there was a room full of awe. As Living Water was set on the table the table-retriever said, “Wow, it’s even more amazing up close.” So, a good start. I gave my little talk. Each woman was fully engaged the entire time. And afterward the room was filled with comments and questions. Lots of questions about the process, and comments about the connection to the story. One girl pulled me aside while others were getting an up-close view of Living Water. She said, “I’ve been wanting to give up today, this gave me hope.”
The whole experience was such an encouragement to me, an encouragement to do sculpture. I still think about those women a lot, and look forward to coming back. I’d love to do little classes and get some art therapy going. We’ll see what comes of it. The following is my talk on Living Water.
Pottery is primarily what I make and sell. Sculpture is more about feeding my soul. It helps me to slow down, pause, and process through life or meditate. And that’s just what this sculpture was for me. She’s titled Living Water. Making her was about slowing down and processing, and even meditating. She’s based off the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. So while sculpting her, I meditated on Jesus’ interaction with the woman.
This started about a year ago. I was in a bible study, and each week we would look at a woman who had met Jesus. We spent a lot of time noticing Christ’s gentle and intimate character toward these woman. Noticing how she responded. Thinking about how we would’ve responded. What would that interaction be like? And we also noticed how these interactions were a part of Jesus’ larger ministry. So that was the motivation behind sculpting the woman at the well–to spend time really learning about her and her interaction with Jesus. I have sculpted one other woman who met Jesus and have dreams of doing a series of them.
Tonight I want us to do some processing together about this with the woman at the well, also known as the Samaritan woman. The story of scripture begins with Jesus and his disciples coming to Samaria. Samaria being the region containing people who were part of the covenant people of God, but, who, in various ways compromised their faith, and were rejected by the faithful Jews. His disciples went off the find food, while Jesus rested at a well. A samaritan woman came up and he asked her to get him some water. She’s astonished. Likely embarrassed. And we learn later on in the story she’s been with several different men. Jesus reveals that he knows this. So let’s put ourselves in her place–beat down, living with shame and guilt. With, really, no way to have restoration, hopeless. I’m going to paraphrase part of this interaction found in John 4, reading it in first person.
I came from Samaria to draw water. And a man said to me, “Give me a drink.” I replied, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me. I’m a woman from Samaria.” He answered me, “If you knew the gift of God, and who It is that is saying to you, Give me a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” I replied, “But you have nothing to draw water with, the well is deep. Where do you get living water?” And he said to me, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give her will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give you will become in you a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” And I said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
We are desperate without this life source. We are just grasping, cupping whatever water we can find and tossing it into our mouths. Betsy introduced me to a book called A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. The famous Psalm: the Lord is my shepherd… I read the chapter on “He leads me beside still waters” as I was finishing up Living Water, and still meditating on the idea of living water. The shepherd was leading his sheep down to a cool clear mountain stream. But along the way several stubborn sheep kept stopping and sipping from small muddy puddles likely filled with manure and disease. And the shephard is urging them on: “Go, go, you foolish sheep. I’m leading you to a stream flowing clear and pure.” And still the sheep kept going after the muddy pool. We are those foolish sheep. We just can’t trust that it will be provided. So we grasp and grasp after what we think will satisfy. And we’re left thirsty and desperate. “Lord, I’ve been waiting and waiting. You’ve forgotten me.”
I know the Samaritan woman felt this way. What was her hope? I’m sure she not only felt forgotten by God, but rejected by him. She’s messed up. She’s given her heart to other gods. She’s compromised her faith, She’s grasped for muddy water. She didn’t trust. She’s guilty of sin of having had many different husbands. Maybe she knew there was supposed to be a messiah coming. She probably thought if there was a Messiah, he would’ve come by now. Maybe if he did come: she was a Samaritan. She wasn’t included in the salvation anymore. So she grasped for her own Messiah. As husband after another came and went, she kept saying: “Maybe this time this man will restore me, will give me hope.”
Jesus, in this small, seemingly insignificant interaction, has come to declare: you have not been forgotten. God remembers you, and not only that, he wants to give you everything. He wants you to be overflowing with life.
She goes into the village and proclaims what Jesus has done for her. She’s been forgiven. She’s been filled. She is a well spilling forth with eternal life. Sharing what Jesus has done. The life he’s filled her with.
Christ wants our heart. He wants us washed in his forgiveness. Baptized into eternal life.
Very often. I hear Jesus’ words, “The water that I will give you will become in you a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” And I still find myself left saying, “But where, where can I find this living water??” I’m parched. I’m beat down.
The famous words of St. Patrick come into my heart:
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left.
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise.
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,St. Patrick’s Breastplate
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Christ is our living water. We have a well of living water available to us always. There are times when we aren’t being filled from those around us or we feel God is distant. In those moments when we’re exhausted, we feel empty, parched, barren. In those moments pray: “Jesus, I am so thirsty. Nothing can quench my thirst. Give me your living water.” And think about it. Feel it fill you. Physically feel it fill you with eternal life. Fill you with Jesus.
“O God, of your goodness, give me yourself, for you are enough for me. I can ask for nothing less that is completely to your honor, and if I do ask anything less, I shall always be in want. Only in you I have all. Amen.”