I was sitting in a rocker on an upstairs porch of the retreat center, with my small group at the Image of the Maker retreat. We were talking about giftedness, and all the conflicting feelings we have about exploring and sharing our gifts.
As clear in my mind as a photograph not yet taken, an image of two bowls surfaced, one full and one empty.
Those two bowls hovered around the back of my mind, behind the sharing and the music and the tears and the prayers: two white bowls. One heaped abundant, and one quiet in its beautiful, bare curve.
Their meaning is one of the things that has come to me slowly over these last days. It seems to me we all travel with two bowls through life. One is filled with our art, our making– the gifts we bring to our world. Our children and the way we make our homes, food and scarves, photos and poems, paintings and sculpture and melodies. The stuff of life.
But we also carry an empty bowl, the space our questions and worries and struggles and pain have hollowed out lonely.
God, the Giver, filled the full bowl sure and certain, with all its color and texture and noise, the stitches and pixels and notes. He made us, we make in Him. And He could in a flash fill all our empty spaces splashing, our formerly empty bowl flooding over with Himself.
And He does, often, minister directly just that way.
But the exquisite privilege of community is that sometimes, He allows us to do that for each other. Because we never know how what we have in our bowl might minister to another, pour sweet relief, understanding, recognition into another’s emptiness. Sometimes He uses us.
I squeeze the hand knitted dishcloth between my fingers, and my friend Rachel is there with me in that moment, and I remember that giving glory to God can be twisted with yarn and soapsuds even for this tired Mamma. Slipped from her needles and into my hands– grace in a depleted evening. Christa’s song opens locked parts of my heart and lets His love flood in. Paint on canvas breathes new life into me. And the empty bowl is less empty, and God is glorified in a thousand sounds and colors, His Image flashing over the walls and ceilings of life like Light split by a prism. Divided yet multiplied.
And when I swallow back the fear and worry, when I remember that a bowl can an altar make, I lay my full one down in the hope the words and images, the meals and makings within will fill someone else’s bowl, and God’s name be written all over it.
Some shy from the title artist, and even the more homey “maker.” Allow me to remind you, as I was reminded that such is our birthright, and in your bowl, whether you acknowledge the art of it or not, is the story your life tells. What you have survived and celebrated, roads you’ve traveled and rides you’ve missed, and all along, the signposts of God’s faithfulness. Stitched into sweaters, laid on set tables and made beds, framed on the wall or hidden in the attic, it might not seem pretty or lovely or artful. And ten to one, you don’t know the power of that story.
The woman next to you in church, in traffic, the one who looks like she’s got it all together, has an empty bowl. And into it could tumble the story your life and art whisper, of your loves and losses, of His goodness and grace.
So what’s heaped in your life that you could hold out as gift? And what is your empty bowl yearning to receive? Both can be offered up, for the use of the wisest Giver.