Mugs and Mercy

In her latest blogpost, Mary Conway brightly weaves together a summer art class, a dusty box of mugs, and the Parable of the Talents. Oh, and you really must check out the story behind that “merciful” mug. Read on!

This summer I spent my Wednesday evenings at the Ankeny Art Center up to my elbows in clay. The class was an attempt to make the season feel a bit more like the summer vacations of childhood: full of camps, adventures, and playing in the mud. Even if life in my 9 to 5 climate-controlled office job remained impervious to the movements of the seasons.

But now summer has drawn to a close. School’s back in session, routines are back in place, and all I have left of my summer playing in the mud is a box full of mismatched, amateurish mugs and bowls. And the inevitable question—what am I going to do with all of these? I’m reminded of the last ceramics class I took, a few years ago now, and the last set of mugs that I boxed up and hid in the back of my closet to gather dust.

They were meant to be gifts, of course. As I was throwing certain pieces I would think of the person I was making it for. How she loves honey, or the color blue, big bulky coffee mugs, or little round cups. But the road is long from a wad of clay on the wheel to a finished piece out of the fire. There’s so much room for error. And nothing I had made came out perfect. Looking at each mug all I saw were the mistakes. How could I gift someone with my mistakes?

Reflecting on that dusty box, I was reminded of the Parable of the Talents from Matthew’s gospel. It’s one of those scripture passages I try to avoid eye contact with, if you know what I mean. The ones that let you know exactly where you stand.

But while usually the “wailing and gnashing of teeth” catches my attention, in this reflection the words that stung came from the mouth of the servant. He says, “Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.” (Mt. 25: 24-25). And reading this I see the pain in the master’s eyes. Perhaps a searching look, as he wonders Do you really believe that? Do you really fear me so much? The third servant’s failure is born not so much from a lack of productivity as from believing a lie about the master: that he is demanding, unforgiving, to be feared.

When I set that dusty box of mugs on the table before my friends, I wasn’t sure what they would make of them. But of course, they didn’t share my narrow vision, fixated on failures. They were delighted. Some of them spontaneously selecting the ones I had made with them in mind. Where I saw mistakes, they saw the gift.

One of my favorite mugs from the bunch began as my least favorite. Among the first ones I made, it was small and heavy. Clunky, with thick walls, no grace, and an awkward little heart carved into the handle. When the time came to choose a glaze, I stood indecisive over the options. What could salvage this ugly little mug? Seeing my indecision, a classmate suggested a “fun” one. She explained that it was a beautiful blue color, but if the heat was just right in the kiln it would sometimes come out a roaring pink. I figured I didn’t really care if this ugly little mug came out pink or blue, so I dipped it in, sent it to be fired, and washed my hands of it.

What I didn’t expect was a mug split straight down the middle, right through that awkward little heart. Half pink, half blue. My Divine Mercy mug. “O blood and water which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You!”

And there, in the Heart of Mercy, is my answer to the words of the third servant. Rejecting his lie about a demanding master, let us pray, “Lord, I know you are kind and merciful, pouring out your graces freely upon the earth; so in spite of my fear I offer to the world the gifts you have given me, trusting that they will be multiplied by your grace.”

Whether we’re giving over our gifts to God, or those around us, it’s worth remembering that where we see only mistakes they just may see the gift underneath. The gift that was really meant for them all along.

Mary Conway loves books, tea, and Jesus, but not in that order. She received her bachelor’s degree in English with minors in Business and Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. Mary works in accounting for a local nonprofit where her secret undying love for Excel spreadsheets is put to good use. She is a parishioner at St. Pius X in Urbandale.

Copyright 2019 Mary Conway