Broken pottery. Courtesy/Father TheophanBy FATHER THEOPHANRector of Saint Job of Pochaiv Orthodox ChurchIf you want to start a fight among normally calm and grounded potters, just ask what makes pots explode in the kiln. The choices are, for the most part, moisture, or air bubbles. Lines will be drawn, arguments will be composed, and chaos will ensue. Whatever we have been taught, we will defend almost to the death.When a pot is fired, the first thing that happens as it is heated, is the mechanically combined water is driven off. We all remember that water boils at about 212° Fahrenheit. So around that time, any water that is still left in the clay starts to turn to steam. If your pot is thin and bone dry and has no air bubbles, then the steam is minimal and travels to the outside of the pot and the pot survives. If, however, the walls are thick, or the pot is less than completely dry, then the possibility of an air bubble filling with expanding steam becomes a greater risk. That expanding steam can easily blow out the side or the bottom of a pot.The hidden air bubble is the bane of potters. It is why we most often buy our clay processed, pugged (thoroughly mixed), and de-aired. It is why we learn to wedge (knead) our clay, which forces air out as well. Once in a while, while throwing or rolling out a slab, you can find an air bubble and pop it, but often they just remain hidden.The pot looks fine. The weight and form are good. The handle is well attached, and it was dried slowly and evenly. It should be a great pot. You even have made plans for its future glazed finishing. But a problem lies below the surface, hidden. The heat of the kiln proves the construction of the pot.There is a reason we use the word “crucible” to describe difficult situations. The application of heat changes things and reveals the true nature of things. For us, for humans, the application of stress does the same thing.Our current closure has been a continual stressor for some months now. At the beginning it may have been worse for chronic extroverts like myself, but everyone is feeling the isolation now. Everyone is struggling with something.Being on one’s own, or being secluded with only family members, the fear of the virus, or the unknown, or the civil unrest in our country, loss of income, sickness; some or all of these have affected us all. And they may very well have brought some personal problems to light.For me, it is a shortened fuse and general grumpiness. For others it may be heightened anxiety or deeper depression. Many have fallen back into previously controlled addictions and bad habits.In times of stress, in the heat of the kiln, our hidden flaws are revealed. “The truly blessed are the ones who can see their own sins.”Hopefully we are not destroyed by our flaws. Hopefully we can learn more about ourselves and do something about where we are lacking. There are ways to fix the problems with ourselves, some more difficult and painful than others, but it is possible.Patience and empathy can help lengthen our fuse. Gratitude defeats grumpiness. Acts of caring and love drive away fear and anxiety. When things get really bad and we lose it with out friends and loved ones, heartfelt apologies and forgiveness can forge our relationships with more strength.Yes, sometimes we need professional counselors and even possibly medication to bring us to health, but no matter how grievous our faults, we are not our flaws. We can do something about that which vexes us.How do we keep a pot from exploding in the kiln? In one word, patience. How do we keep ourselves from exploding in stressful times? Grace, given, requested, and accepted.