Scratching The Surface
I quickly looked up fearing danger from above but only saw the door frame and the sign of the ceramics shop we were visiting. Puzzled I turned to my brother Carter next to me, "what did he say? something about above."
Neither one of us are fluent in spanish, but hey, two heads are better than one right? We looked at the man who we were doing our best to understand. He then pointed to a set of stairs in the shop, they led up...ariba. With a sweeping motion he invited us up. My brother decided to stay behind and I found myself along with Anton another member of our team, and Billy my cousin on the second level of the shop.
The second floor was filled with shelves holding all different shapes of fired ceramics. The shelves lined the edges of the bouncy floor. The bounciness ended up being a problem because in the center of the floor were five men painting very detailed ceramic bowls. At the head of the table sat a younger looking fellow who greeted us, "buenas tardes"
"Buenas tardes" I responded
"Dondé vive?" Where do you live? he asked
We went back and forth exchanging bits of information such as what our names were and where we were staying. He must have noticed we were taking an interest in the artistry of the painting because he came to say, "vamanos" let's go.
He led us up to another stair case. This one hidden behind more shelves of ceramics, mostly pots, some with handles. My vision seemed to focus in on the stairs as the figure of the person we were talking to before scurried up and vanished. Everything around me seemed to be a blur of grey and adobe pastels as the stairs were in grainy focus and I took them one, slow, step, at a time. Above me was a rectangular opening about the length of a Kayuka and width of one and a half full grown men. My hat poked out the top, then my forehead, then my eye brow's and quickly after that, my eyes. I couldn't believe what I saw.
"El es el Maestro" He is the teacher is the is the direct translation.
Although in that moment it seemed more like he was the master. His hands worked the clay up and down, up and down. Then he would slide his thumbs in and the clay would listen and expand to a an elongated tube. After that he touched his pinky to his thumb and would widen the creation from the inside, focusing on the bottom. Smoothing the outside edges and finally releasing his masterpiece from the wheel, his tool of choice, he would add one finishing touch. A dip in one part of the lip, using the gentlest flip of a finger. It was easy to imagine water flowing from this pristine piece of art, into a glass, and soothing the soul.
I stood there speechless for a few moments not sure if I should speak at all for fear of disrupting his work. I don't even remember who spoke first. When he did speak, from lips plump at the bottom and thin at the top. With a nose above more flat than pointy as well as wide, indicative of Mayan decent. Eyes on either side focused on creating his work furrowing his brows and even his forehead as tan as the clay itself, with black hair surrounding it with patches of gray, he half whispered half spoke, "buenas tardes".
The first few sentences I was gathering my composure from the awe that I was experiencing. On my left was Anton to my right was Regan, behind me was the man from the second level seemingly in the shadows, and in front of me was el maestro. We struck up a relaxed conversation among each other. His name was Santos, he was seventy years old. When I asked how long he had been working in his profession he said, "cuando yo era niño" since I was a kid. Seventy years to attain mastery.
Val too found her way up. This was great because Val IS fluent unlike the rest of us. With Val's help the master, who was eager to share his craft with us explained that, "ceramics is a science taught through theory and practice". He demonstrated a progression or theory of ceramics for us. Explaining that you cannot move on to the next theory until you master the previous one.
To me this is an example of a surface level relationship. Relationships take work and practice, but the benefits are immense. From them we gain an understanding of each other. I continue to be inspired by all the relationships I start each day in Guatemala. It amazes me that these are just the start of relationships. Can you imagine if these were taken deeper? If you or I got to really know people outside of our bubble? What could we learn? I have a feeling that would be a relationship that both people would benefit from. It goes both ways.
The stoves we build here are important, yes. But as Jesus taught us and from our lectio reading that we studied this morning on One Corinthians Three, relationships are the foundation. "Now if anyone builds a foundation with gold, silver, precious stone, wood, hay, straw...the fire will test what sort of work each has done." The same can be said of relationships. However one is more susceptible to flame than the other.