The much beloved devotional guide, Clay in the Potter’s Hands, by Diana Pavlac Glyer has just been released in a new full colour gift edition! Devotional guides are difficult at best to get right, and many never achieve what they set out to. Clay in the Potter’s Hands does not fall into that category. Wisely and carefully written, it allows the reader to ponder processes and metaphors to find meaning for their own soul. There is no glib answer offered in this book, no prescriptive packaged and assigned. There is just the richness of good writing from a fellow pilgrim, matched with good images to shape our thinking and wondering. I have clung to My Utmost for His Highest, Streams in the Desert, and any thing by Spurgeon over the course of my life in Christ. Clay in the Potter’s Hands deserves to keep company with them. I cannot recommend it to you highly enough.
LES: This book is such a departure from your widely known Inklings studies, including The Company They Keep and Bandersnatch. What prompted you to write Clay in the Potter’s Hands originally?
DPG: I was inspired by a classic book by Phillip Keller called A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. Keller noticed that Jesus called himself a good shepherd, and then he realized that unless you happen to know a whole lot about shepherds and sheep, you might miss the power of that image. I read that book many times, and every single time, I got to know God a little bit better.
Phillip Keller was a shepherd; I am a potter. And, as it happens, God uses the language of pots, pottery, and pottery makers throughout the Old and New Testaments. What is there to know about this important metaphor? The more we know about clay, the richer and more inspiring this image becomes.
LES: With the success of the original edition, why create different editions? And why a “gift” edition?
DPG: The original, classic edition was literally put together in a garage. Friends and family cobbled it together with the skills and technology we had available when the book was published more than a decade ago. And it has sold tens of thousands of copies: it has been a wonder to see how this highly visual metaphor speaks to people of all different ages, interests, and denominations. Since then, it has been used in Sunday school classes and small groups, in discipleship ministries, and as a guidebook for retreats.
But after ten years, the design needed to be updated. So I reached out to Matt Tyler, an incredibly talented photographer, and we spent several days in the ceramics studio working with clay and taking all new photographs. I had planned to use high-contrast black and white versions of those images, as we did in the original publication. But when Matt showed me the full-color versions, they took my breath away. I knew a full-color edition would be more expensive to produce, and I knew that not everyone would be drawn to it, but I hoped that if we made it available, some people would respond to those color photographs the way I did.
The Gift Edition is published in a slightly larger format. All of the photographs, inside and out, are in full color and are printed on a special paper that captures those colors beautifully. We freshened the overall design as well. The text hasn’t changed: the story is exactly the same. And the classic black-and-white edition and the Kindle edition will remain available, along with the Workbook and Leader’s Guide.
LES: How has the work you have done on Clay in the Potter’s Hand shaped you as a writer? What has it drawn on in you differently than Company or Bandersnatch?
DPG: With both The Company They Keep and Bandersnatch, I am looking outward. I love studying C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and working hard to understand the many ways that their friendship influenced their work. What did they talk about? How did they understand their craft? How did they handle criticism? What can writers and artists learn from their example?
Clay in the Potter’s Hands is much more personal and reflective. A potter begins by seeking the clay, then cleaning and preparing it. Each kind of clay has its own texture and temperament.
Clay is shaped alone on the wheel, but it goes through the heat of the kiln with others. If something goes wrong in the shaping process, God is not daunted. These details and more point to meaningful spiritual parallels. They speak to the way God works to seek me, know me, shape me, and abide with me.
LES: In the role of the active producer of this work, do you have a different sense of connection to this work than to your other books? What does being the one to make the decisions about formatting and printing call on in you as author and maker of it?
DPG: The way a book balances in your hand, the way the type moves across the page, the effect of pictures, blank spaces, and pull quotes: each of these factors has a significant impact on how a reader engages with a text. Design is a remarkable thing. Think about the way your favorite coffee cup feels to the touch. Think about the reasons you pick up that same cup each time, even though there are plenty of others in the cupboard. A particular pen or pencil. A cozy sweater for rainy days. Your favorite jeans. We are physical creatures, and we have strong reactions to the tactile and visual details of the world around us. Designing a book is an attempt to eliminate distracting or awkward features and enhance beautiful and pleasurable ones. I love working with this process! It is deeply satisfying. But it is frustrating for me, too. While I have a degree in Art, I don’t have a lot training in design. That’s why I am so grateful for my collaborators. From the first to the last, they have lent their unique vision and considerable skill to bring my words to life.
LES: Is there a chapter in this book that was more difficult to write or come to terms with than others? How did you wrestle through that to complete it?
DPG: After a potter has prepared the clay and attached it to the potter’s wheel, the next step is to apply pressure so that the clay is perfectly centered. Students who are just learning find this step really frustrating: it takes a really long time, and, to be honest, not much seems to be happening. And yet, none of the shaping and pulling can begin until this practice is mastered. The chapter on centering is challenging to me because in my daily life, I am pushed and pulled in so many directions. And I am not patient in the process. It was hard for to write about it because I continue to be so convicted by it. But here again, the clay teaches me. Small movement. Gentle pressure. Gradual progress. Wait. Repeat. Wait. Repeat.
LES: What is the gift that this book has given to you?
DPG: Zechariah 4:10 says “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…” (NLT). This extravagant new edition of Clay in the Potter’s Hands started with some journaling when I was in college, developed into a workshop that I offered at churches, took shape as a popular illustrated book, and now has new life in a beautiful new format. Every step in the process is a reminder that the Lord rejoices in small beginnings, that we must not lose hope.
The Gift Edition of Clay in the Potter’s Hands can be ordered from Amazon here,
and from Barnes and Noble here.
The featured image of Diana Pavlac Glyer is (c) Lancia E. Smith and used with her permission for The Cultivating Project.
Both images of Diana Pavlac Glyer at the potter’s wheel are courtesy and (c) of Matt Tyler.
Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is the Founder & Executive Director of Cultivating & The Cultivating Project. She has served in executive management, church leadership, boards, and Art & Faith organizations over 30 years. She & her husband Peter have parented 7 children, & have a flock of beloved grandchildren. Lancia loves garden and website design, beautiful typography, road trips, being read aloud to by Peter, & cherishes every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George MacDonald.