Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Today’s coffee: “Sunrise” Kona (for those of you who visit Kauai, it’s the house brand of Living Foods Market—best coffee I found on Kauai!)

Today's coffee.
We’re counting the days. At this time in 2 weeks, I will hopefully be sleeping soundly at the OMF Sapporo guesthouse. Or, I might be waking up already, since it gets light at an ungodly hour at this time of year in Hokkaido. In any case, less than 2 weeks until we leave!

But first, we are leaving for Iowa today to visit Keith’s family, since Keith’s sister, Becca is getting married on Saturday! (I will be wearing my iro-tomesode kimono, which is the proper kimono to wear to the wedding of a close family member… and isn’t really appropriate for anything else. Glad I have an opportunity to wear it!)

As our home assignment draws to a close, I’d like to share with you a couple of thoughts that have been occupying my mind lately.

Last fall, I took the opportunity, at my friend, Jane’s invitation, to take a pottery class. I don’t really have a bucket list, but if I did, pottery class would have been on it. In the midst of life-transition-reverse-culture-shock stress, whacking huge lumps of clay against the table was pretty therapeutic, as was getting my hands all covered in mess while I tried to make something beautiful… “tried” being the operative word.

My goal was to make a few chawan and a few other small implements for tea ceremony. I didn’t do too badly with hand-building, which is the method of choice for certain types of chawan. They certainly looked like the work of an amateur, but a good first effort.

Hand-built scraffito chawan, in progress
My first hand-built chawan. Not bad!
Then I had my first try on the wheel. I had watched my teacher’s experienced hands form a beautiful little chawan according to my description, so I tried to do just as she had done. She advised me not to be too picky with the shape or size of my first efforts—to call them “happenings” and decide what they will be used for after I see how they turn out. Some of our best pieces are the ones that go “wrong,” she explained. Just play around and enjoy… and if it’s really useless, just throw it (at the wall. Throwing pots. Ha ha.)

Drinking coffee during class out of the chawan my teacher made. I shaped the foot and did the glaze. (It's actually supposed to be for tea, but there was coffee, and no other cups.)
My first try was probably beginner’s luck: I managed to make a nice straight cylinder. But this “luck” didn’t last. My long, skinny fingers seemed to be a liability rather than the asset they are when I play my instruments; to my surprise, my strong cellist-fingers were not strong enough to control the clay. They got stuck and spun around, giving my perfect cylinder a couple of funny divots in its rim. My teacher, observing my work, declared that I had made a little flower vase.

My "happenings": cream pitcher, vase, and... sermon illustration?
I tried again: just when I thought I had succeeded at making a chawan, once again I caught one of my fingers in the rim. “It’s a cream pitcher,” enthused my teacher. Last try: my chawan was shaping up nicely… and then the clay got too wet and the whole thing collapsed. I decided to keep it anyway, to practice glazing (and maybe to use as a sermon illustration).

The sermon illustration. (Any other suggestions?)
I gained a whole lot of respect for my teacher, and for anyone else who can successfully use the wheel to make what they actually intend to make. I realized that using the wheel takes a lot of practice to develop strength and skill—in an 8-week course, I wasn’t going to get there. My teacher, however, had been practicing and honing her skills for years.

I also know the importance of practice. I have been practicing cello regularly since I was ten. If I stop regular practice because I’m busy with something else, my skill and my strength both decrease. Seven years ago, I started learning Japanese. After previous language-learning attempts, I’ve concluded that the best way to learn a language is to live in a country where that language is spoken, because opportunities to practice will be almost inescapable. Although I’ve been working hard at keeping up my Japanese level these last ten months in the US, I’m kind of scared to find out how far I’ve fallen…

But there’s one more thing I’ve started practicing this year: listening. Listening also requires practice, whether I am listening to God, to other people, or even to my own thoughts. I’ve learned repeatedly this year that before I demand that God give me answers to some problem I am trying to solve, I need to spend time with him, remembering who he is and what sort of relationship we have. There have been many big decisions to be made this year, and all of them seemed to take especially long—probably because I needed to first learn to listen. And I’m sure I will re-learn this lesson many more times.

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