Ned Erickson

Questions for Discussion

1. “From his spot by Mule Lick Creek, he’d watch the stars sparkle from their spots in the universe. He’d shudder at their beauty. Though, sometimes their distance produced in him a longing that was almost too large to bear. A feeling of lonely that left him wondering if he was missing something, if there was more to life than just being Clay. And many nights he’d lie awake into the wee hours, wondering what that something could be.” Have wonderings like that ever “curled around your mind like question marks?” Is the longing for something more universal? How about the thing we long for? (see p.6)

2. Belief is a big theme in Clay. At the beginning of the book, Clay cannot move without belief. Later, the Potter says to Clay, “You can do anything, even if people believe that you can’t.” How does belief affect ones ability to move? How has the belief or unbelief of others shaped your view of yourself? (see pp.14-15, 25, 161-162)

3. What do you think about Clay’s conversation with Crick and Craw? How accurate is the crows’ perspective on humans and the Potter? Later, when we meet the Potter, we learn that because of his cataracts, he cannot see very well. The author writes, “The truth is seeing is always a matter of perspective.” And later, in the conversation mentioned in the previous question, the Potter states, “Many things are missed when you only believe what you see.” How does sight play a role in the novel? How does perspective change the way different characters see things? (see pp.17-20, 45-52, 102, 161-162)

4. During China’s conversation with Clay, she talks about being cut, mashed, thrown, punched, poked, pounded, and beaten. China says that she prefers to use the word shaped. What do you think about the term shaped? It finally dawns on Clay, “Shaping isn’t bad; shaping is life.” What do you think about that? How does life shape us?
What does China mean when she says that “there is a difference sometimes between fact and truth?” How does our definition of things inform how we understand the truth beneath the facts? (see pp. 79-80)

 5. Another theme of Clay is finding one’s purpose. Throughout the novel, Clay wonders if finding a purpose will give him fulfillment. Along his journey, he meets made things who seem to have found elements of purpose in their made-ness. Finally, we meet the Potter who doesn’t seem interested at all in giving Clay a purpose. What do you think the author is trying to say about the subject? Do you think there is a specific purpose for each one of us? How does one find it? Or does purpose find us? What do you think? As a culture, do you think that we put too much or too little emphasis on the idea of purpose? Why?

 6. In the Chapter called “Apple Trees,” the Potter tells Clay a story about two similar trees that grow up in completely different circumstances. How do you interpret the meaning of this “analogy?” What does it mean to you to grow where you are planted? Is the Potter correct when he says that life is what matters, not how many people eat our fruit? (see pp. 164-170)
At the end of the chapter, Clay asks the Potter if the conclusion of the parable really happened. The Potter answers by saying, “It’s my story. I can tell it any way I want.” Have you ever thought of your life as a story? Or that you are a character in some greater story? What do you think about the concept of “life as story?”

7. On the last night the Potter and Clay spend with each other, they take a long walk by the river with no purpose whatsoever. The author writes: “The Potter had made [Clay] after all. The Potter had made him whole.” What does whole-ness mean? Earlier, Prayer for a daughter tells Clay that no made thing is completely self-satisfied. How does her insight relate to the idea of whole-ness? Is it important to separate who we are from what we do? Why is separating them sometimes difficult? (see pp. 95-96,185) 

8. Merriam-Webster defines an allegory as “a story in which the characters and events are symbols that stand for ideas about human life.” Based on that definition, is Clay an allegory? Think about the characters and events. In what ways does this story fit the definition? It what ways does it not?
The image of the potter and clay is used a few times in Scripture to describe God’s relationship with humankind. How does what happens in Clay compare or contrast n your understanding of the Scriptural image?   

9. In the prologue, the author states that Clay becomes made. As you were reading the story, did you find yourself predicting what was going to happen? What predictions did you make? How did you react when you found out what actually happened? Was it a satisfying resolution? How was it meaningful to you? (see p. xii)

10. How did you react to the author's note? Did you find it powerful? Or did you think it unnecessary? How does knowing the story behind the story affect your perspective on the book?
The author writes, “My purpose is not my own.” What do you think of the idea that ultimately our purpose is for others not for ourselves? How is that freeing? How is that challenging?

Some other questions to consider:
11. The author framed his story with a conversation between a grandfather and his grandson. Why do you think he did this? What does the multigenerational layering of this book communicate about the book’s overarching message?

12. There is a certain dignity that the author gives each one of the made things Clay meets. What do you think he is trying to communicate to us about the way we see others? How do we as humans elevate or devalue people based on their purposes? Prayer for a Daughter shares that even though she is expensive, in a sense she is less valuable than a brick. Taking her point, what does this say about the way we should treat one another? (see pp. 94-95)

13. On page 49, One-Eye tells Clay, “Beauty is pain.” What does that mean? How does Clay experience this truth throughout the story? How does the idea that beauty is pain play out in your life both negatively and positively?

14. On page 25, the author writes, “Winter is a long season for belief to endure.” Think about life in terms of seasons. How does our life reflect the natural changes that occur around us each year? Are the seasons we experience in life necessary? Are they good?

15. Clay has a rollercoaster of an experience while watching a broken plate become part of a beautiful mosaic. A few thought provoking things happen during this transformation. The Potter tells Clay at one point, “things do not always turn out the way we mean them to.” What do you think about that statement? Then after Clay watches Dawne place the shard, Clay discovers, “All was not lost. The plate, the broken one that had lost a purpose, had gained another one here – a purpose perhaps, even more meaningful. Even if it was attained through brokenness.” What do you think about that? How can brokenness give meaning and beauty to things? (see pp.127-135)