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I measure my life in vessels.  They trace the contours of my days.  Teacup, bowl, oil lamp, pitcher, baptismal font, Communion chalice, basin, bathtub.   I sleep in the belly of night and wake under a downturned bowl of blue. I ponder their shapes as I begin to understand my own longing: wanting to be held, fighting against being contained.Teach me, I say.  Tea, food, oil, water, wine, stars, sky.  Teach me how to gracefully, powerfully fill my space.from Jan Richardson’s Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas

Below is a bowl I designed with mosaic several years ago.  The glass form was originally an old punch bowl left lying by the dumpster.  I had been looking for a large ritual bowl I could decorate and this one was perfect: wide and somewhat shallow, creating an inviting space within.  I loved resurrecting something that had been discarded.  I usually bring it out around this time of year because the design speaks to me of the beauty of darkness and the signs to be found in stars. 

I would add womb-space to Richardson’s list, that vessel-space deep within us, whether male or female, that holds the seeds of new life coming to birth.

What are the vessels of your life?  What do you want to make space to hold? 

-Christine Valters Paintner

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4 Responses

  1. Me, these are very beautiful, lots of great lines. I especially love: My life is like a vessel,/like water stagnate with age -/Are the feelings my soul holds./Will they rust? And break me. . . I wish to hold you / to the light and confirm
    that you are growing./ Perhaps I would find / an egg laced with veins, / a knob of a heart inside, / and the thrashing shadows / of wings ready to spread.

    Eggs are a marvelous image of vessel. Thanks for sharing your poetry!

  2. When I was in my early teens, I saw a painting entitled vessels, I don’t recall all the particular but it had an egg in it and a rusted out pot…it impacted me seriously – the first part of the poem below was written in proximity to the viewing the second part was written early in college when considering my own issues and my grandmother who was a paranoid schizophrenice.


    I saw some empty vessels
    Broken and rusted by age.
    My life is like a vessel,
    like water stagnate with age –
    Are the feelings my soul holds.
    Will they rust? And break me
    Like a can that is old?
    Will my feelings leak out the hole,
    Until all that is left
    Is an old, empty vessel?


    The dam finally burst,
    Torrents of truth tumble down.
    The vortex pulls, as I drown
    Stagnate water escapes it’s vessels,
    Purified as it seeps through dirt.
    The container that once held so well
    Has become tired and worn.
    And what was once thought sanity,
    Has now been understood,
    To be what drives me crazy.
    And everything I thought I would be
    I won’t.

    My writing was very undeveloped at the time… :) Eggs are still the ultimate vessel in my life….

    Swallow (4/17/01)

    The lump is too big;
    I want to go outside,
    lie down in the snow,
    stay until it melts,

    dissolves the shell,
    leaving only trace
    carbons and minerals
    that sink into the earth.

    Grass pushes up
    through my womb.
    Children find
    Easter eggs.

    Fidelity (2/9/02)

    I want to pick it up
    cup it in my hands
    study the smooth surfaces
    cock my arm back
    and throw
    it against the wall

    and watch
    as yellow guts
    slide down and settle
    in the crack
    along the baseboard

    and watch
    as it hardens,
    the gloss dimming
    as the moisture is sucked out
    leaving only a hollow shell

    I surround it in pillows
    snug it under comforters
    and cushion the blows

    I stare past a soft shoulder
    slightly out of focus
    and wonder
    where the yellow stain
    on the ceiling came from

    Candling (Monday, August 25, 2003)

    An incandescent bulb
    hangs in the laundry room.

    I wish to hold you
    to the light and confirm
    that you are growing.

    Perhaps I would find
    an egg laced with veins,
    a knob of a heart inside,
    and the thrashing shadows
    of wings ready to spread.

    There could be ruptures
    darkening the surface, ready to crack
    and let you lie in the sun with me
    until your feathers are dry.

    Or I might discover a clot of inertia
    crammed in the narrow end
    because you weren’t turned
    daily and allowed to grow
    in different directions.

    And you remain there
    until apathy rots you
    and the lingering smell of sulfur
    repulses those who approach.

    Saturday, May 07, 2005


    the birds sing
    good news
    the egg is broken
    new life bursts
    from a shell of darkness
    and the world is filled
    with noise.

    The mentioning of eggs in those poems may seem incidental but they aren’t that painting is always in my mind when I consider the concept of an egg.

  3. My children are the vessels of my life at present. They are the blocks of clay at my feet begging to be filled and refilled, formed and reformed: but really I am just the wheel upon which they are thrown and I long to see them take shape and open up to the hands molding them, loving them daily. I want their spaces filled with confidence and love resulting in an out-pouring of His love, His being.