by: Phil Braudaway-Bauman
“Careful! Don’t fall!” Reaching for each other’s hands, Chris and I gingerly found our footing on the short pathway winding down from the mesa overlooking the main campus of Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. The previous day’s snow flurry had transformed the fine red dust of the hillside into squishy, slippery mud. It wasn’t the backyard garden slurry you get when humus, organic matter, dirt, and sand gets wet. This was soft, uniform, and extremely slick. Danger, lurking in common mud.
“I’m stuck!” Laughing as hard as she was, it was surprising Sharon could keep her balance. Especially since she had to do it with one foot, sporting a bare sock, waving wildly in air, vainly searching for the boot that had been sucked clean off her foot by the thick mud. Our small mission group was visiting Dulce Nombre de Jesus, in rural Nicaragua, participating in work projects and learning of their faith and commitments. But the ideals of service had fallen sway to the realities of Nicaragua’s rainy season. Hilarity, bursting out of tenacious mud.
Playing in the mud seems to be an activity exclusively engaged in by very young children, except for one unique type of adult who is elbow deep in it day in and day out. I served as a potter’s assistant of sorts one summer during college, lugging sacks of dried clay, mixing it with water, and preparing it for the wheel, where my artist friend Ginny deftly transformed this basic foundational substance into whimsical, delightful, and sacramental vessels. “I am Redeemed Earth!” declared our T-shirts. Creative force, coaxed from unwitting mud.
In the second biblical creation story, in Genesis 2, God is described as a lover of mud, a shaper of the magical and sacred from this elemental substance: “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” The prophet Isaiah, pleading for some revelation, some sign of God’s presence, acknowledges, “O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” But this Potter-God is sure to remind us that the work of creation is not a one-time once-and-for all event. “Go down to the potter’s house,” God tells Jeremiah, and the prophet there watches as the clay is formed, the vessel ruined, and then reworked in the potter’s hand. “Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done?” queries God? Can’t I tear you down, then rework you to form something useful, a vessel of beauty? Redemption and grace, a relationship – mud transformed.
“You are dust, and to dust you shall return,” we reminded each other on Ash Wednesday, quoting God’s admonishment to Adam. Add water to the ritual and you could as easily say, “Mud you are.” Formed of the earth. Shaped by love. Transformed by redemptive grace. Made useful for a needy world.
“Creator God, gather up your mud, fashion and form us, destroy and rebuild. Make of us a thing of beauty in your eyes, a vessel of worth and in service to the world.”