Blessing a kiln — Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson, USA

This service was written as a blessing for a home-made wood-fired kiln on the day of its first firing.  It might be adapted for other items used in the creative process, e.g. a loom or studio.
This service was originally written for the blessing of a kiln designed and built by Daniel Gardner of Loveland, Colorado USA.

Supplies:

  • some dirt/earth in a container
  • some water in a container
  • a candle & matches or lighter
  • Print out the readings for the readers.

Beginning

In many ways the things that we take time to bless are already blessed. This kiln has already been blessed by a vision and the people who have  worked so hard to make that vision real. Each of you are blessing it with your presence, by the gift of entrusting it with your work, your creations. You will bless it with your time and attention as you stoke its fires. It has already been blessed by the sun and rain, the winds and snows. By the curious gaze of questioning eyes. So what we do today is to ritualize all of those blessings, to take a moment to intentionally notice all the blessings that have already happened.

The two readings arise from conversations with Daniel about pottery, life, vessels and this kiln.  After the readings, we’ll bless the kiln with earth, water, air and then the fire that you all will build and stoke in it tonight.

Reading 1        from ‘Close’ by David Whyte*

‘Close is what we almost always are: close to happiness, close to another, close to leaving, close to tears, close to God, close to losing faith, close to being done, close to saying something, or close to success, and even, with the greatest sense of satisfaction, close to giving the whole thing up.
Our human essence lies not in arrival, but in being almost there, we are creatures who are on the way, our journey a series of impending anticipated arrivals. We live by unconsciously measuring the inverse distances of our proximity: an intimacy calibrated by the vulnerability we feel in giving up our sense of separation.

‘To go beyond our normal identities and become closer than close is to lose our sense of self in temporary joy, a form of arrival that only opens us to deeper forms of intimacy that blur our fixed, controlling, surface identity.

‘To consciously become close is a courageous form of unilateral disarmament, a chancing of our arm and our love, a willingness to hazard our affections and an unconscious declaration that we might be equal to the inevitable loss that the vulnerability of being close will bring.

‘Human beings do not find their essence through fulfilment or eventual arrival but staying close to the way they like to travel, to the way they hold the conversation between the ground on which they stand and the horizon to which they go. We are in effect, always, close; always close to the ultimate secret: that we are more real in our simple wish to find a way than any destination we could reach: the step between not understanding that and understanding that, is as close as we get to happiness.’

*‘Close’ from Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, by David Whyte, Revised Edition, 2021

Response to Reading:  

It can feel like this moment of firing is the destination, but the journey of creating, the journey of beginning, is always first and foremost about the journey itself, about the practice of closeness. In Whyte’s words:
‘Human beings do not find their essence through fulfilment or eventual arrival but staying close to the way they like to travel, to the way they hold the conversation between the ground on which they stand and the horizon to which they go.”
This, as much as anything, is the practice of creating art and beauty.

Reading 2         poetry from ‘In Blackwater Woods’ by Mary Oliver

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
go,
to let it go.

Response to Reading:  

Now, in this act of blessing is the moment of letting go.

Blessings

Preparation & Explanation: Have a different person read each portion of the blessing . When they bless with earth, actually place dirt/earth on the kiln. Do the same with water. When reading the air blessing, invite those gathered to breathe together. Light a candle or match for the fire blessing. If/as it makes sense, this flame may then be used later in the lighting of the kiln.  Finally, have everyone place their hands on the kiln and offer words of gratitude, acknowledgment, hope and blessing.

Earth:  We bless this kiln with earth – for it is made of earth and it is a vessel for earthen pots, for clay creations.

Place a container of dirt/earth on the kiln, perhaps sprinkling some directly on the kiln.

Water:  We bless this kiln with water – knowing that its task is now to remove all traces of water and moisture from that which is within.

Place a container of water on the kiln, perhaps sprinkling it on the kiln.

Air:  We bless this kiln with air – the air that will allow the fire to burn within. The air that the kiln will breathe.  I invite everyone to breathe toward the kiln.

Fire:  We bless this kiln with fire — the fire that will be lit and stoked within.  May it burn strong and hot.  May the kiln be a vessel to contain the heat of all that burns within it. May the fire bring transformation and beauty.

Light a candle and place it on the kiln.

Act of blessing:  I invite everyone to place a hand on the kiln and, going around the circle, each offer words of gratitude, acknowledgment, hope or blessing.

Reflection

I am not a sculptor or a potter or really much of an artist at all.  But I understand that there is something of life and theology and love in pottery. For in it is the practice of paying attention to earth, literal earth.  The dirt and the ground and the substance of earthiness with the thousands of things it once was. Pottery is the practice of seeing what earth might yet be.  To take the dirt and love it and let it speak in your hands, let it tell you what it wants to become and offer it structure and support as it becomes that thing. There is creating that happens, but it is not totally clear to me whether the potter is the creator or the creature or the created or all of those things at once.

Then, after tending the dirt, after listening and inviting it to tell you what it will become, after coming to know and love its colour and texture, its shape and form and the shape and form of the empty space within it, after all of that, you must let it go.  Release it to a literal hell of fires burning at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  You must release it to the possibility of failure, of broken pieces, and also of its becoming something you cannot yet see.

You let it go.  You stoke the fires and wait.  Like the disciples after Jesus’ crucifixion. Like Gandhi during his hunger strike. Like the bodhisattvas and holy people of every tradition.  Then, like the women, you return to this tomb to see what you might find.  And what you find is something new, something transfigured, transformed.   You discover it is not merely the clay that has been changed, but the artist, the potter, you yourself have changed.

We bless this kiln.  As we release the creations that are pieces of you, we also bless you.   We celebrate your creativity and your courage as you wait to discover what will emerge from the fire.

May the earth bless you – grounding, nourishing and sustaining you.
May water bless you – making you soft and malleable, shaping and reshaping you.
May air bless you – the breath of life, spirit itself, connecting you with all that has ever been, all that is and all that is yet to come.
May the fire bless you – agent of transformation and renewal.  May your heart and spirit alight with its power and the knowledge that it lives in you.

Lastly, may you then be a blessing – as you create beauty, as you reveal truth, as you act in courage, as you leave the world a more magnificent place than what you found.

Let it be so.