The Ancient Art of Soul Shaping

by Stephen W. Smith

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When we began the work of Potter’s Inn, we felt we were “given” the name by God in 1997. The name was a clear as the blue sky. There would be no question.  The name felt significant and symbolic. This ministry would be about helping people who had been invited to sit upon the Potter’s wheel and to be their companions.  The “potter” word was clear. But the “inn” word has morphed in time. We began virtually in our living room. Three years later we found an ideal retreat to offer people a place to come to the “inn.”  Now, in 2018, we have felt the wheel’s work. Now, the “inn” will be our deeper, inner work that can be done at any time and at any place. But the “inn” still conveys small, intimate, one life at a time and the deeper, inner work of personal transformation.

We chose the timeless image of the potter and clay as a powerful image and metaphor to help people grow in their self-awareness and God-awareness that we are the clay. There is another One who serves as the Potter.  

Pressing here. Pinching there. De-constructing.  Re-constructing. Shaping always throughout our lives.  As we all know, nothing stays the same in our lives. We go through many diverse seasons and our spiritual journey is learning to pay attention to what God is up to in each season of our lives.

In our early days, we commissioned a sculpture to use in our ministry.  The piece called, “Forming Hands” by Clay Enoch shows the two distinct hands of the potter at work. One hand is tender and graceful. This hand shows the potter working to lovingly keep the clay stable on the wheel. The other hand is strong, firm and digging.  We’d use this piece in our individual work with people, asking those who came to us to tell us their story based on the sculpture. Not one person in all of our beginning years told their story through the loving hand. All were shared stories of brokenness, smashing and shattered dreams. Our goal was to be those loving hands that helped people along on the journey of spiritual transformation.

It’s been a powerful piece of art that helped ground Potter’s Inn across the world. The University of Texas used this piece to give to their distinguished alumni of the year. There are 2,500 sculptures “out there” in the world now. Each one having a space to remind those who see of the clay and the Potter. There are no more available and we do not have plans at this time to reproduce this amazing sculpture. You’re fortunate if you have one. 

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Now, Gwen and I have been talking to another sculptor and we are working on another piece.  This new piece will have four hands working on the clay. The apprentice potter’s hands will be working on the clay. But the master potter’s hands will be at work also mentoring, showing and forming the hands of the apprentice.  You’ve seen this powerful picture if you’ve seen our website and newsletters through the years. But we felt it time to work on this beautiful piece now.

This new piece will be a centerpiece of metaphor and symbolism. It will reveal that none of us work alone.  If we teach, there was a mentor teacher who shaped us early in our lives. If we are in healthcare, someone showed us the ropes. If we are a counselor or business owner, we humbly recognize that if it were not for someone’s guiding hands, we could not be where we are in life.

This new piece will be available in 2019 and Gwen and I are excited to be working with the master sculptor, Scott Stearman to design this piece that will be a gift; a centerpiece, a talking story of giving thanks to all the people God uses to shape us along the way.

We’ll keep you posted. Our thinking at this point is that this new sculpture will be a limited series that will be individually signed by Scott Stearman as well as Gwen and myself.

 Art has a way of telling our stories and helping us to understand the larger story of our lives. This new sculpture will be designed in this same mode and with this same intention.

 As I explain in my book, Soul Shaping, we realize that:

·     God deals with each of us uniquely.

·     God uses people to shape our lives—other hands, some for our good and some that have harmed us in ways we need reshaping now and throughout our lives.

·     Spiritual transformation is a journey. Not a technique or tip. It involves time, space, waking up and inner work.

·     We are all invited to surrender and to trust the process of the sacred Potter.

As Potter’s Inn morphs and changes, we realize that God is our Potter and that we are invited together to trust the process and to wait and to sense God’s movement at the right time.