torsdag 28. oktober 2010

In the Potter's House

- a Blue Cross tale, by Roald Hansen

Hear the words of the Lord
“The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, ‘Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words.’ Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it into another vessel which seemed good to him“.
Jeremiah 18, 1-4
Part 1
The door opened before he had time to knock. A friendly smiling woman welcomed him with a handshake and bade him come inside.
“We were waiting for you“, she said in a warm, cordial voice. ,“Take off your coat and find yourself a comfortable chair, I’ll come right back", she added and disappeared through the door
He felt dirty and really terrible. He shivered from head to foot and became aware of the anxiety and the bleak despair which were gradually invading his thoughts. He tried to hold back his tears, though sooner or later they would surely begin to flow, of that he was sure But he hated the feeling that he would lose control of his body, his tears, his feelings and his words. He had attempted to prepare himself for this first meeting, having often been In the same situation before. In spite of this he found it extremely painful and shameful to have to ask for help yet again, even though this time the place was entirely new and unknown to him. Besides which, these places for “people with problems" always kept in close contact with each other. It was amazing how much they already knew about his problems and about all his earlier attempts to escape from this hellish situation, indeed, it seemed as though nearly everyone knew his life story.
Before the relief and pleasure of intoxication were replaced by the trembling he knew so well, the inner tumult and the feeling of utter helplessness and emptiness, he had pondered for a long time as to how he could explain his failure. How should he justify the fact that this time also it had not worked, after all, he had a good home and he had been able to keep his job? What had gone wrong? In places like this there were so many questions to answer, so many phrases beginning with, “how?“ or ,“why?", ,“what does this mean?" or ,“what do you think about it?". Of course, they had every right; he had disappointed so many people so often. There were so many stories to tell so many episodes, and so many feelings and sensations to remember. To find the essential, the most important or - at least - to find the right words, no, it was always just as difficult! What will the consequences be, what will they expect from me this time, he wondered?
It seemed like an eternity to him, though it was probably only a few minutes since he had arrived, when the friendly woman came back into the room. She carried a basin, a cloth and some ointment.
“It's good that you have chosen a comfortable chair, because I want to wash your feet and rub them with this ointment", she said. “We know that most people who arrive here have sore, tired feet, it does them good to have their feet washed and rubbed with ointment."
“But I am so filthy and cannot even remember when I last washed them, and my clothes have had it", overwhelmed and almost a little scared by the woman's proposal, he tried to object.
“Yes, we know how you feel, but try it just this once, it will do you good", she said, smiling.
Without having to say another word, or to explain anything else, he leant back in his chair, shut his eyes and put his sore, tired feet into the warm water. The painful sensations, the anxiety and the shivering all disappeared for a while and he felt how the warmth from his feet spread out to his fingertips and then into the dark and wounded depths of his soul. Now he could no longer hold back his tears!
He noticed the marks on her arms and before he was able to say anything, the woman smiled and said, “Everyone wonders about my scars. Let them see, they should know and hear how I came to get them. You must realise that we all bear marks, some have marks that are more visible than others, some like me, let them be seen at times which may be right or wrong, though others would much rather hide them. We are all so different from one another and it is up to each one of us to decide what he wants to show, but we all certainly bear marks, wounds, marks and scars from the life that we have lived before. Jesus had the scars of nails on the palms of his hands. Do you remember how He had to show them to Thomas? I'll tell you more about my scars another time", she said and went on, “right now you are the focus of our attention".
Later he was given new clothes, the soiled clothes were taken to be washed and he was led to a bathroom, where he was told he could stay as long as he wished to have a good warm bath. One gets the impression that time stands still in a place like this, he thought to himself. He reckoned that there would be time later for him to explain what had gone wrong, and to talk about what would happen next. At that moment, there was obviously no need to say anything. No one seemed to expect him to say anything either. Maybe nobody was very interested in him here?
Although he was still tired and shivered from time to time, he felt like a new person as he went with the woman whom he had met when he arrived, through a door marked “Potter's Wheel". This door opened into the centre of the house, a sort of atrium, a large, open, circular space. The walls were made of bricks of various colours. There were yellow, red and grey bricks. The room was decorated with green plants of different sizes. There were several sitting areas in the room and in the middle of the atrium, he saw a sculpture of a potter concentrating on his work at the wheel. On one of the walls there was a painting depicting Jesus dressed in white, standing with outstretched arms. He had the impression that he could hear Jesus saying to him, “Come unto me, you who are weary and are heavy laden, and I will give you peace." That was a verse from the Bible that he knew well. Under the picture, stood a small table, on which was an open Bible and a burning candle. As he drew near to the picture, he could clearly see the scars of the nails on the palms of Jesus' hands. it seemed to him that there was a great similarity between the potter and Jesus, and that they both had the same radiant expression on their faces and in their eyes. He thought that he had seen the same expression on the face of the woman who had welcomed him. Perhaps it was only a coincidence, or maybe he was overcome by all the emotion. In addition to the light from several lamps and candles burning in the atrium, daylight came in through long narrow windows arranged in two concentric circles in the roof. There were also many doors, with carved wooden doorplates, leading into the atrium. He only knew what was behind the door through which he had just entered. They were all closed, but gave the impression that people were free to go in and out as they pleased, without waiting or knocking. This made the whole place seem to be accessible - and yet safe. He was not able to make out what was written on the doorplates.
“I don't want to tire you too much today", said the woman, as she went towards one of the doors saying, “Now I will show you the room which will be yours as long as you stay with us." A plate hung on that door on which were written the words, “Rest". Inside there was a small hallway with a few rooms on either side and right inside a sitting room. He noticed that each room was decorated with a different colour combination, and that each colour spoke a language of its own. On one of the doors in the hallway, he found to his amazement, his own name burned onto a wooden doorplate. They really were waiting for me, he thought to himself, and this reassured him slightly, but he did not mention the fact to the woman.
“This is your own small “Heartening" room," said the woman, “to which you can retire when you need time to think or to rest. But we won't leave you alone for too long at a time, because it is by being with others that you will gain new strength and energy." A small wild flower lay on the bed, with a card and a Bible. On the card were the words, “He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul." He knew these word and they reminded him of Jesus in the picture in the atrium.
“When you feel really rested, we will tell you more about the different rooms in the “Potter's Wheel", that's the name we use to describe what happens here" she said kindly as she withdrew. When she had gone, he got straight into bed in his fresh, newly washed clothes. He could not bring himself to get undressed. He felt so heavy and weary - and at the same time warmer and strangely, more peaceful. He let his thoughts wander freely for the first time in many weeks. They left his tired, heavy body, went out of the room, up and over the green pastures towards the red-gold horizon, where they finally disappeared.
Part 2
He met the woman again in the atrium the next morning. “You look as though you've had a good night", she said, holding his hand for a long time. After his eyes had met the woman’s, he looked quickly at the picture and the sculpture. Yes, there really was a striking resemblance between the woman, the artist's rendering of Jesus and the potter. Indeed, it was not perfection that he had seen. No, it was more attention, intense concentration and commitment to something outside their own lives. In a certain sense he got the feeling that all three of them were there for him alone. A silly feeling, he thought, and smiled to himself.
“Now I’ll tell you a bit about what is to be found behind the different doors you can see", said the woman, this time speaking in a thought provoking tone. “You must decide for yourself which room you want to go into. You must also decide for yourself when you want to go in and how long you want to stay there. You do not have to follow any particular plan or order. The rooms are there for you, for your use, but for the others who are here with you too. Therefore each must decide for himself, with one small exception which I will explain later, what is best to do and when. If you are not sure what you really want, you are free to talk to the others in this community. We all gather in the atrium at specific times. You will also meet the others in the various rooms in the “Potter's Wheel". I shall always be here for you and with you, whenever you say you need me and also whenever I get the impression that you need me. We shall discuss our experiences and thoughts concerning the different rooms, which will, I hope, awaken your curiosity and desire to enter them.“
“The first door goes into the room that you came out of yesterday. I am sure that you remember that it had “Potter's Wheel" on it. From there you can go out through a door marked “On the Way". When the time comes for you to leave, we’II discuss this point - and make careful plans together for what we mean by “on the way".
“The next door is marked “Storytelling".- Everyone who visits us in the Potter's Wheel has one or more stories that he or she would like to share with others. There is always time here for storytelling and at all times there are people here listening and thinking about what they hear. A clever lady, called Virginia Satir, wrote something which goes very well with this room:“
“Only I am I. There is no other person in the whole world exactly like me. There are people who are similar to me, but no one is identical to me. Therefore everything which comes from me is genuine and belongs to me, because I alone choose it."
“The third door is marked “Grief".- Many people refuse to go into the room of suffering and sorrow. But in the end many feel the need to go in there. We cannot simply leave grief to one side or bring back that which is lost. But we can be with you, be near you and hold you fast when darkness, pain, rage, worry, despair or tears take away your courage and strength. There is nothing more to say about this room. Words are often empty and meaningless when it comes to the subject of grief.“
“The fourth door is marked “Meditation and Prayer" - There is always a candle burning in this room as a symbol of God's presence. Whenever you wish you can go into that room to pray, to find peace, to meditate, to read the Bible, for company or to take Communion. Here, we can lay everything at the feet of our Lord. We can come to Him with our innermost despair, our suffering, our bitterness, our guilt, with our cries for help. Just as we can come to Him with our gratitude, our joy and our dreams. Look at the large window behind the altar, it gives you a wonderful view of God's creation, the glorious, ever changing landscape, so carefully planned for every eventuality, to bring us joy and strength. Not one detail or shade has been forgotten."
At this point he realised that the painting of Jesus hung between the rooms for “Grief" and “Prayer".
The woman continued, “The fifth door is marked ,Wholeness, Nearness and Reconciliation".- This room is a little different from the others. Although, this room is also open in a certain sense, one cannot simply walk in. Our idea is that you should only meet people with real insight and experience here. So it would be good if you could arrange an appointment with us first. Here you have an opportunity to find out what models and influences your life and also your approach to other people and your contacts. This is the place where you should discover your own expectations and needs. it is a place of nearness, frankness, acceptance, respect and reconciliation with those who are near to you.“
“The sixth door is marked “Visions".- Viktor Frankl, a former prisoner in a concentration camp, wrote a book entitled ,“Militant Belief in Life" He described how important the belief in life is in every person’s existence, even when everything appears meaningless. Faith, hope, dreams, visions are guiding stars in our life. Even if we do not, in fact, achieve much, they help us to set the course and to define our journey through life. These guiding stars can also light our way when darkness and shadows overcast our path. In this room you can share your dreams and, who knows, perhaps build new visions with others through words, pictures or in some other way which makes sense for you.
“The seventh door is marked “Freedom and Responsibility".- Freedom and responsibility are closely related. True freedom cannot be attained without responsibility. Discussion and practice help to enable us to develop and to overcome limits within the framework of our responsibility for ourselves and what is right for the lives of others.
“The eighth door is marked “Joy and Praise".- There is a time for everything; “to break down, to build up, to weep, to laugh, to mourn and to dance" as the Bible tells us. This is the time and the place for joy, laughter, song, dance, poetry, music. These things set us free and set new and unknown elements moving in our lives.
“e ninth door is marked “Blossoming and new Skills".- Here we find a wide range of activities. There are, among others, drama, movement, sport, music, creativity, art, poetry and more. Teaching also plays a very important part here. Everything in this room is influenced by the people who happen to be there. Some call it the “room where there is something unusual afoot". This a place where experiences can be a little frightening and yet intriguing at the same time. You get the same feeling as when you swim in deep water for the first time. Once you have got the knack, tried it out and become confident, a whole host of opportunities lie before you.
“The tenth door is marked “Rest".- You already know this room. You have already spent some time in it. Not everyone who comes to the Potter's Wheel uses this room. Some people come just for a few hours, for one day or perhaps for one night, while others stay longer."
He began to feel tired again, and found it more and more difficult to take in all that the woman was telling him. Almost as if she could read his thoughts as her eyes met his, she said, “that's enough from me for the moment. You should now be on your own as long as you feel the need. Any time you wish you can find me here in the atrium. From now on you can guide your own steps, and ours, around the Potter’s Wheel."
This story was written to be a vision and a source of inspiration for work in the Blue Cross, and to express gratitude to all those who are engaged in diaconal work.
To me, diaconal work in this context means:
“To bring those who are weary and heavy laden to the Potter's House and to the Potter's Wheel - a place and a method - where the power of the Gospel, team work, the skill of the artisan and creativity, shape, renew and reconcile."
Roald Hansen 1995
Translated 1996/eb

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