Have you ever watched an artist work? I had the opportunity to do just that when I spent a couple of hours with Wray Brown one Tuesday afternoon. Wray was born and raised in Chesterfield County and was in the first graduating class of Clover Hill High School. Wray and his lovely wife Susan are long time members of Bethel and Wray is an artist. Wray “turns bowls,” meaning that he takes a piece of wood, places it on a lathe and skillfully shapes the wood into a bowl, or vase, or a plate or even a Christmas ornament. Once the piece is finished, Susan’s talents often come into play as she is able to artistically arrange some flowers in a vase and really bring the piece to life.
Wray’s passion for woodworking began at Stockton Baptist Church when he was only a boy. There was a gentleman in the church who showed a group of boys how to build a shoe rack. Wray got to sand and glue the wood and he discovered he really enjoyed working with wood. Wray first learned about turning bowls at Elkhart Junior High School but he didn’t start doing it seriously until after he retired from Dupont after 41 years of service.
Wray gave me a fascinating demonstration of how the process of turning bowls works. He had me choose a piece of wood and I picked out a small piece of Maple from his wood pile. He set out to make a vase. Wray cut the wood and placed it on the lathe and then I watched in amazement as he skillfully began to remove the bark. Wray would often stop and change the tool he was using or make an adjustment to the machine to get the angle of the tool just right.
As the vase took shape he stopped and pointed out imperfections in the wood. There were worm holes, black fungus spots and a knot. He told me how these imperfections will ultimately give the vase its character. As he was shaping the vase I asked him how he knew what cuts to make in shaping the vase. He said, “The wood has a mind of it’s own and it speaks to me and tells me what it needs to become.”
I asked, “How does it speak to you?” He said, “Good question. I’m not altogether sure. It’s a challenge. You have to watch the grain and get the feel of the wood and, if you pay close attention, the wood will let you know if it doesn’t want to be shaped in a certain way. This is why every piece is unique; that’s why I’m not a very good duplicator.”
Then Wray showed me what he watches when he cuts. He doesn’t watch the knife blade as it cuts, instead he watches the other side of the piece of wood and sees the image of what the knife has already cut and that helps to guide him to know how to continue to shape the wood.
As I watched Wray apply his craft it struck me that the process of turning bowls is a lot like becoming a disciple of Christ. God sees in us the image of what we can become and when we commit to following Christ we all start off pretty raw, but God begins the process of peeling back the bark of everything in us that is not of Christ. Then there are those imperfections that Wray spoke about. He said, “Imperfections gives the finished piece character.”
That’s true for us. Something we might perceive as an imperfection, a flaw, or a past failure, God can actually use those things to bring us to a place of humility and ultimately work through those things to actually bless other people. Our imperfections and past failures can become a beautiful source of blessing.
Finally, there’s one last thing Wray said that I loved. He said, “I’m not a great duplicator.” What an interesting comment. I think that’s true of God. God doesn’t seem to do much duplication. Instead of duplication, God is simply into creation. Each one of us are incredibly unique, a one of a kind work of art, just like Wray’s bowls.
As we go forward in faith together let’s give thanks that God doesn’t require perfection. Thank you, Lord, that you actually work through our imperfections and past failures as you continue to shape us into a unique work of art that bears the image of Christ. I want to thank Wray for the gift of his time and I’d like to share one thing he left me with. I shared with him how impressed I was with his art and his talent. He said, “Everyone has a God given talent or skill, why not use it?” Why not indeed! May God bless Wray and Susan Brown and may God continue to bless Bethel Baptist Church. Amen.