It was a crisp autumn morning, in my sophomore year of college (Who am I kidding? It was cold!). It was considerably more windy in the flint hills of southeastern Kansas than I was accustomed to, and it was grey and damp and cold. Wrapped in the thick flannel American Eagle shirt that everyone in the mid ’90’s owned, I trudged across campus, and into a low stone building. Inside this building, I may as well have been outside. Everything was cold, grey, damp, and unyielding. I made my way over and grabbed five pounds of clay, and sat down at the wheel. This was no fancy wheel, no electric motor to make life easy. I kicked the several-hundred-pound concrete wheel until it reached a decent velocity, and began to form the clay into something useful.
I am the furthest thing you can imagine from a master-potter, but I did learn a few things. Forming anything useful takes intention, patience, vision, patience, effort, patience, and control. And patience. If you put too much pressure in one spot, all the progress you’ve made forming the vessel is undone; it twists and contorts and collapses into a heap. Nothing can be done to salvage it, but to start over. If you start over too many times, the clay becomes saturated with the water which is meant to help it. It becomes too supple and must be thrown on the heap until it dries out.
So there I sat, listening to the quiet whirring of the concrete wheel spinning on the bearings. I could hear and see my breath, as I tried not to move too quickly. The clay is first centered, and then slowly drawn up. It takes several passes, as it would weaken the vessel to pull it up all at once. For an extrovert who likes to move and get things done, this was an excruciating process. Sitting there, restraining my muscles, controlling my movements to prevent flaws in the vessel, I was overcome by what may be described as anxiety — shortness of breath coupled with an overwhelming urge to move. I resisted, and remained resolute in my efforts; but it was hard.
The end result was far from perfect, no one would ever want to buy this piece, no professional potter would look at it with anything other than pity, but it sits in a place of prominence because it was born of considerable effort — my effort — and it reminds me that not everything worth having can be achieved without pain and personal sacrifice.
So now, we are faced with an Election. Bloggers and commenters and even some blogger-commenter clergy are eager to tell us all the conclusions we must come to as we consider how to cast our ballots. But not the bishops. The bishops have given us information on how to form our consciences as we approach the ballot. They expect us to do the hard work on our own.