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Friday, 30 March 2012

In the Potter’s Hands


Have you ever observed the manner in which pottery is being shaped? Countries belonging to the far eastern region of the world have coined the invention of pottery making. Pottery making dates back to the new Stone Age era. Pottery is made by forming a clay body into objects of a required shape and heating them to high temperatures in a kiln which removes all water from the clay, as well as induce the reactions that lead to permanent changes including increasing their strength and hardening and setting their shape. Let us explore the different physical stages and the methods of reshaping that clay undergoes before it becomes pottery.

At the first physical stage, clay is considered a green ware. Here clay is soft and malleable. It can be easily deformed by handling. The second physical stage is leather-hard. At this stage it is very firm, possesses little water content and is only slightly pliable. Biscuit, the third physical stage of clay, represents the clay shaped into the desired form which has been fired in the kiln for the first. This firing changes the clay’s body in several ways. The fourth and final stage is called “glost fired”. During this stage decorations are added to the biscuit form of clay and no water content is present. The absence of water from the clay is categorized as “bone-dry”.

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Similarly as Christians there are several stages that we go through. At the beginning of our journey we are excited and ready to take on the world. We question the foundation and principles of our belief. At this stage we are easily swayed; others have the opportunity to positively or negatively influence our beliefs and practices. It is at this stage that God will begin to shape us.

Before clay can become pottery, it first has to go through a range of methods. Clay can be shaped through three methods: hand building, granulate pressing, and pressure casting. Hand building involves utilisation of the hand to form the clay wares. This is the earliest forming method. A combination of flat slabs of clay or pinching solids balls of clay are used to construct the ware. During the process of shaping the clay, a potter’s wheel is often used to offer a high degree of control over the size and shapes of wares. This process of “throwing” creates a rotational symmetry on a vertical axis while the clay is pressed, squeezed, pulled upwards and outwards into a hollow shape. A potter sometimes uses more than one method of shaping depending on the nature of the clay.

Granulate pressing, the operation of shaping pottery, is done through pressing clay in a semi-dry and granulated condition in a mould. The clay is pressed into the mould by a porous die through which water is pumped at high pressure. The granulated clay is prepared by spray-drying to produce a fine and free-flowing material having a moisture content of between about 5 and 6%. Not all clays are the same; some require additional pressure to mould the ware. This forces the potter to employ pressure casting.

Pressure casting involves the application of high external air pressures of up to 4.0 MPa. This high pressure leads to a much faster casting rate and production cycle. Furthermore, the application of high pressure air through the polymeric moulds upon demoulding the cast means a new casting cycle can be started immediately in the same mould, unlike plaster moulds which require lengthy drying times.

Conversely, travelling on the road of our Christian pathway, we experience roadblocks and sometimes fall into ditches. Our front ends get dented and sometimes chipped. 

However, it is at this stage that we learn to openly put our lives in God’s hands. He seemingly break us down before He begins to reshape our lives. Though in His hands, we are liable to cuts and bruises. He will then use this opportunity to gently smooth out the rough edges, pulling us upwards and outwards adding a thick protective outer covering, while at the same time, He trims the edges to smooth out past roughage that have been acquired throughout the journey. Even through the process of reshaping moulding, we will still meet in accidents. We may acquire some dents and chips, but it is here that the potter begins to add more pressure. Some may be fatal while others serve to increase trust and faith in God. This added pressure serves to strengthen the trust and faith we have in God.