Making a goblet like this one is tricky. I throw the cup first and then I throw the base on the potter’s wheel next. Throwing clay up into a base is a lot like throwing a candle-stick or a bud-vase. After the two pots have dried a bit (to something like the consistency of a piece of leather) then the potter will simply trim the cup and place it on the stem, gluing it with some very muddy clay so that the two pieces become one chalice.
But here is the tricky thing. For reasons of science, dirt, evaporation and molecular structures into which I will not go, the cup (that sits atop the stem) can sometimes form a small crack because the clay stretches as it dries. And here is the even more tricky thing – the crack is often so small that it is not visible to the naked eye. But the crack gets bigger when the bisque firing happens and then bigger still when the glaze firing happens. If the potter does not see it early to fix it before the firings, then the unseen danger simply grows and destroys the vessel.
The intensity of the fire in the kiln at 2,400 degrees for more than 12 hours, widens the cracks that were invisible when the potter placed the dry, clay goblets into the kiln the first time.
These days in which we all live, right now, are like that kiln. A crucible of sorts. The pressure is on. The invisible stress-cracks inside each one of us are – because of the intense heat of life’s insecurities – becoming wider, more visible cracks after the firings.
- Cracks inside us from childhood abuse and neglect, perhaps unseen or un-noticed before, are widening into low emotional intelligence in these days.
- Cracks in marriages from old betrayals and miscommunication are widening into resentments in these days.
- Cracks in friendships because of betrayal, life-stress or comments-that-lack-mindfulness are widening into fractured relationships in these days.
- Cracks caused by new fears about income due to job loss or the loss of pledge income in churches and dioceses, or from reduced investment-yields are widening into panic and broken relationships these days.
We are seeing, in the nightly news, that people are breaking apart from old, simmering, subterranean rages – early cracks that have, in these days, widened into great breaks. And not just people – also institutions. We are seeing in diocesan offices, church vestries, and government that tolerance of differing opinions about dogma, doctrine, budgets, relationships, or rituals are stressing already stressed and weakening institutions.
As I live, love, move and have my being on this island in the Salish Sea, I am noticing both as a potter and as a human, that there are more cracks in things than I had ever previously noticed in the frantic speed of pre-coronavirus life. More cracks in me. More cracks in others. More cracks in the church’s one foundation. More cracks in families. More cracks, even in my friendships.
As I ask my friends and mentors about this epidemic of cracks, they are asking me back “So Charles, what do we do?” Wow. What a question.
And after a few days of wondering, I realized I had an answer. Not for everyone else, but for me. Writers write to figure things out and readers read to listen in on the figuring. And perhaps what might work for me, might work for you; so I offer my DIY plan for dealing with the widening cracks in my life. It’s not more prayer. It’s not more meditation. It’s not more rest or more self-help books and its not more liturgy.
My plan is to curate my closest friendships more carefully. I mean, really edit down my list of close friends – like cleaning closets but instead, cleaning “The Friendship List.” Marie Condo stuff. I am deleting names in my iPhone contacts list. I am deleting names in my Facebook “friends” collection. I am radically downsizing my relationships to only the ones I feel are holy, kind, beautiful, and deep with emotional intelligence. And I am taking great care about that short-list; three copies of which I keep taped to the wall of my bathroom, my refrigerator and my study. Many do not make the cut. I mean them no harm nor disrespect. I am simply focusing on essential and trustworthy relationships – people who are kind, forgiving, honest and caring. But that is not all. That is only part one of the two-part plan.
Now that I have my short-list; I am asking these closest friends questions about my own cracks. We say “be the change you want;” so I am asking about how I might be a better person – seeking answers only from people I deeply trust to supply them. This takes dedicated, scheduled conversations, tremendous courage, and mutual trust. This is holy-ground-take-off-your-shoes type stuff. I am asking this short-list of friends to help me get to know myself better. I can’t change the people who are misbehaving, but I can limit my own. This will help me better get to know ancient, unseen cracks in me. This will help me better anticipate cracks that will widen in these stressful times. True, cleaning out closets is easier and faster, but leaving this self-inventory to Lent just never works for me.
The crisis of these times is not just ventilators. It is not just emergency room capacity. It is not just flu diagnoses. It is not just church membership and income decline. It is not just job-loss. It is not just financial insecurities. The crisis of these times is the unseen cracks within us. Cracks that widen with stress. Cracks that will harm relationships. Cracks that cause the chalice to leak.
Charles LaFond is an Episcopal priest, author, speaker, potter, and fundraiser living on the cliffs of an island in the Salish Sea. He writes The Daily Sip (thedailysip.org); which is neither.