All 22 of us were standing in the shop and listening to our guide explain the unique nature of the porcelain works we were visiting. Made from a special mineral-content clay taken from nearby Turkish hills, some of the beautiful work was on display around us. All of us were interested in the process.
He began by explaining the work of the master craftsman whose wheel was turning. A skilled artisan would take the clay and mold it under the steady pressure of his trained hands. Then, when the piece was in the form the master desired, it would be placed in a kiln heated to some 1,200 to 1,400 degrees Celsius. The delicate-looking plate, vase, or bowl would be left in that extreme heat for 14 hours, then allowed to cool for ten.
In the transforming heat of the kiln, the clay forms glass and metal particles that interlock to form fine porcelain that has high mechanical strength and hardness. Henceforth, it is both resistant to thermal shock and penetration by chemicals that would weaken or discolor it. Finally, the translucent piece will be colored by an artist and glazed for the sake of brilliant and lasting color.
Fascinating as the narration had been to someone who knew nothing of the process, the part of his account that impressed me the most was yet to come. Reaching for a large bowl, the narrator asked, "Does anyone know how to distinguish high-quality porcelain from its inferior cousins?" I certainly did not and looked around only to see similar blank looks on the other 21 faces in our group. He smiled, balanced the bowl with the fingers and thumb of his left hand, and lifted it for all of us to see.
"Please," he said. "Listen!" With that, he thumped the lip of the translucent piece with the forefinger of his right hand. A distinct and resonant ring came from it and wafted over his audience -- a sound almost as beautiful as the sight of the piece he had lifted for us to admire. "Now," he continued, "listen to the sound from this piece that is flawed." Lifting a piece with his left hand that looked identical to the first, he thumped it with his right forefinger. And the sound reminded me of one I used to hear as a child when I threw rocks onto the rusty tin roof of my neighbor's barn. Grating. Harsh.. Anything but beautiful.
How like human character! All of us are being formed by life's experiences and our practiced responses. Through the pleasant and unpleasant days, we are formed. Then the crisis moments put us into the fire. And we emerge - refined and matured, or embittered and brittle.
"Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow" (James 1:2-3 NLT).
If life gives you a thumping this week, pray that your heart will ring true.