100 Happy Days #71
Sunday morning arrives, bringing with it heavy clouds and a steady patter of rain. I sit alone on my tatami mat, pondering about life and what I really wish to express through pottery. It’s an ambitious task to think about big ideas on a rainy Sunday morning, so I think about simple words instead. What am I doing? Where am I heading? What is the meaning of all this?
The first word that comes to mind is 樂 (“le”). Its simplest translation is “joy”, though it also encompasses enjoyment, happiness, amusement, optimism. There is a good article on its history here. There is a type of Japanese pottery called Raku, which incidentally translates to the same word 樂 in kanji as well! I’m sure there must be some hidden revelation there that will eventually crystallize in my mind, and then everything will make sense.
The Chinese word for happiness is 快樂 (kuai le), which literally translates to “quick joy” if you read the words individually. It’s not too far off either. The way I understand and use 快樂, it usually refers to a kind of easygoing happiness and overall contentment. But take out the word 快 and you’re left with just 樂, which to me becomes something a lot more profound. It is that deep, abiding sense of joy, so vast and abundant that it fills us to the brim and overflows endlessly from the depths of our very being. It is seeing a double rainbow for the very first time; it is gazing out in awe from the top of an immense mountain range; it is the the gentle, familiar caress of a lover who has been at one’s side for decades; it is the quiet, resolute faith that everything, everything, will be OK in the end.
I thank God for giving me 樂. When I knew only of this material, physical world, everything just seemed so pointless when I spent enough time to think about what I was actually doing in life. But knowing that there is a God who created everything, who is in control, has made a world of a difference in how I see my own life and the meaning of my existence. In turn, I have in recent years felt that fullness and joy that I have never felt before. I hope I can imbue this into my pottery!
The second word is 靜 (“jing”). It means to be still, to be quiet, and to have inner peace. If you separate the two Chinese words which make up 靜, it is 青 (“qing”) and 爭 (“zheng”). 青 usually means green, but also means being clear, or empty. 爭 means struggle, or conflict. Thus to have peace, it is to be empty of conflicts. How elegant a word.
In my faith journey, one of my greatest struggles is to be still in God. I know intellectually what the Bible tells me to do, to “be still and know I am God”, but there are still many inner anxieties and feelings that I cannot seem to find peace with. But from my experience here, I am beginning to feel that there is something in the art of pottery which can really bring me to a state of peace and equilibrium with God and with the world around me. You push, and the clay pushes back at you. Push too hard and it topples over; too lightly and nothing very much happens. But at just the right strength, and with just the right amount of patience, something unimaginably beautiful emerges. From nothing more than a lump of mud.
The last word is 望 (“wang”). It means hope, but also a sense of searching, of longing. As I take the first wavering, uncertain steps of this long journey, all I can really hang on to is the hope that this road I’m on will take me somewhere, and that at the end of it all I can say gratefully that I have lived my life well. Hope is what wakes me up everyday, and keeps me walking, and making. But what about this longing? What am I longing for? Well, after more than thirty years on this planet, I realize that I have unwittingly been shaped and molded by society into someone that I don’t really understand, and don’t particularly like. I have lost a good deal of my childhood innocence and joy, and gained an unhealthy amount of fear, impatience, and cynicism. Now, surrounded by the beauty of nature, the power of creation, the purity of the human souls around me, I feel a deep sense of longing for the girl I’ve lost along the way. I want to find her again. And when I do, I promise I will never let her go.
Thinking about all these words makes my spirit feel wonderfully light and refreshed. I lie down, looking up at the ceiling of clouds, and suddenly I think of my own name. The very last character is 雯 (“wen”). It is made up of two characters – 雨 (“yu”), meaning rain; and 文 (“wen”), meaning words, or language.
Words under the rain.