This bowl came back from my retreat on the Welsh coast last summer. It carries with it shades of the sand flats and the harbour at the edge of the small town there, the expanse of sky and the blue of the sea. As soon as I saw it in the local craft shop, I felt the need to bring it home as a reminder of everything the retreat meant to me.
I've never 'thrown' a pot (on a potter's wheel, that is. I've never thrown a pot either) but it must be very physically satisfying, to see something beautiful and useful emerge from a shapeless lump of clay.
It was the pre-Raphaelite William Morris who said 'have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful'. Bowls are useful, but this one's more beautiful than useful, if I'm honest. In fact the glaze has already slightly worn off due to a regrettable turn in the dishwasher, after I tried to serve some food up in it.
Really it's just beautiful. It couldn't be more blue, smooth, shiny, hard and redolent of the seaside. The light bounces off it like sun off water, and brown pigment runs into the base through the streaks of blue like rivers of sand when the tide's going out.
It's just a bowl. But it signifies something deeper. It was on that retreat that I learnt to love myself a bit more. I sat in God's presence in the chapel. I walked with no bag and no agenda. I spoilt myself, sitting in a cafe eating an expensive salad I hadn't prepared and buying a blue bowl which would almost certainly not be useful.
Because God loves us, full stop. Not primarily for our usefulness. Which is quite a 'useful' thought in Lent.