Empty Vessels

I have been following The Sketchbook Challenge blog for a while now. Each month an artist picks a theme then other artists blog their responses to the theme and everyone is encouraged to join in with their own attempts and post them on the Flickr group.

The pictures below are my response to this month’s theme of ‘Bowls’.

These are my favourite bowls – the ones we use for our everyday meals. I love the shape and the blue spots. These particular pictures used a combination of pencil, watercolour and coloured pencils, finishing with black fineliner pen.

I then drew a close-up of the bowl and thought about the kinds of words that a bowl evoked. It seemed to me that with a bowl you could both give and receive. Bowls can contain; they can hold things. They are a symbol of hospitality and nourishment. They can either be filled or they can be empty.

This reminded me of a well-known story of a young student who for some time had wanted to visit a great and wise teacher to learn all that he could from him. He finally had an opportunity when he was invited to meet the great man over afternoon tea. The student, overwhelmed with excitement, approached the great teacher, bubbling over with enthusiasm.

As the teacher poured tea, the student excitedly shared his thoughts with the teacher, until he noticed that the teacher was continuing to pour tea into an overflowing cup. “Teacher!” exclaimed the student, “what are you doing?”.

“My Son,” said the Teacher, “your cup is too full of your own opinions. Until you learn to empty yourself, there is no room for me or anyone else to teach you.” And so the student left, disappointed, and having learned nothing.

And so, for me, the bowl is a symbol of ourselves as empty vessels, ready to be filled with understanding and knowledge.

Only when we can empty ourselves of our own opinions, our own baggage, prejudices, assumptions, and presuppositions, are we truly ready to meet and learn from others and from God.

Our full bowl is what prevents us from truly engaging with God and with others. Our empty bowl represents humility – an acknowledgement that however much we think we know, however much we think we’ve got sorted, there is always more to learn.

When we meet with others in humility, then we have a basis for positive and productive relationships, where we can learn from each other and respect our differences.

When we meet with God in humility, then we are open to the possibility that we might be mistaken in our firmly held convictions, and we can explore what new wisdom God might reveal.

‘For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.’ Proverbs 2:6