Intern Insight

Intern Insight

Kimberlee Tomczak Carlson, Ministerial Intern

My spiritual practice is making art and I love to make things out of clay. There is something about how clay yields its shape to touch yet has its own integrity of form that mesmerizes me. I am fortunate to have a studio in my basement; however, like most spiritual practices finding the time in my home away from the needs of my family and school is rare and takes extra effort, especially when mom is just a stairwell and shout away. I struggle with feeling selfish and it can seem frivolous and irresponsible to escape to the potter’s wheel. Yet, I have learned the hard way that my soul shrinks when I do not heed its call to play with clay. I know that losing myself in time with clay between my fingers sustains me and multiples my inner resources.

When one sits at the potter’s wheel, you are agreeing to involve yourself in a set of actions that prioritize centering and transformation. The steps to making forms from clay on the potter’s wheel mirror the steps one takes during mediation. To begin, you must get the clay almost perfectly centered in the middle of the wheel, there is no perfect center. Throughout the shaping, the potter will need to tend to the clay centering continuously re-centering. Just like calming oneself with breath to focus the mind before meditating, if the clay is not centered it will jerk your hands about, wobble and fail. Once centered, the clay is opened by pressing thumbs intentionally into the middle. This opening creates the possibilities to shape a container. In meditation, opening yourself to spend time with your own thoughts also creates a container where intentionality and self-awareness can grow. Next, you pull the walls of the clay, each pull brings the clay from the bottom up and into the walls of the vessel. As the walls of the vessel grow, the potter must be mindful of many things: keeping the clay centered, thickness and weakness of the clay, as well as the form the clay is taking. Shaping your form is a dance between what you want to make and what is happening in the act of making. Practice gives you the grace and power to make your vision into a vessel. Similarly practicing meditation allows one to be mindful when life goes sideways or even downhill. Spiritual practice manifests as the mental muscle memory tool that you need to be your best self.

This spring the student council of my seminary, Meadville Lombard Theological School, commissioned me to make a memorial chalice for Denny Davidoff. Denny Davidoff is best known for being the moderator of the UUA Board of Trustees and General Assembly from 1993-2003. She was a mentor, tireless lay leader, remarkable fundraiser and an enthusiastic believer in Unitarian Universalism. In a world filled with gates and gatekeepers, Denny stood apart as an extraordinary gate opener. Like so many, I was fortunate to be a benefactor of her wisdom, encouragement, and challenge to persevere and excel. In my journey toward ministry Denny, like my spiritual practice, invited me to be my best self.

So as I sat at my potter’s wheel, reflecting on memories of Denny, feeling honored and grateful to be reminded of her, I continued with grace and guidance. I could not help but think how perfectly appropriate it was that Denny was still, somehow, posthumously- impelling me, challenging me to take on something I wanted to do, something I could do, and yet something I had not done. To me, that is Denny’s legacy, that call to be our best selves, to live into our faith and to rise to the occasion again and again. By practicing intentionality, we find the grace and power to know ourselves and each other and make the world more loving and beautiful, one creative act at a time.

Contact Kimberlee Tomczak Carlson via the church office.