Personal and Community Transformation
God . . . as a potter
During the provincial gathering on October 8, 2022, the symbol of a tree was used for the presentation of the theme for the year, Embracing the Newness of the Spirit. To broaden and deepen our reflection, let us now refer to the beautiful story of the potter which features the figure of the prophet Jeremiah who, in popular thought, is often remembered mainly as the author of the book of Lamentations.
Word of God
Jeremiah recounted his experience of God speaking to him: “The Lord spoke to me, ‘Get up and make your way down to the potter’s house; there I shall let you hear what I have to say.’ So, I went down to the potter’s house; and there he was, working at the wheel. And whenever the vessel he was making came out wrong, as happens with the clay handled by potters, he would start afresh and work it into another vessel, as potters do.” (Jer. 18: 1-4)
In the potter’s house
Let us note that it is God who sent Jeremiah to the potter’s house. He wanted to instruct him about his plans for him and prepare him for his mission as a prophet. With a discerning eye, Jeremiah watched over every step of the work. The potter had an idea in mind. He knew what he was going to do. He chose the appropriate clay himself. When he tried to give it a shape, the clay resisted. The potter patiently re-started his work many times until he was satisfied with the result.
Why does God need to instruct Jeremiah?
The Bible presents Jeremiah as a gentle man with none of the fire of John the Baptist. His whole life would be marked by ambiguities: fears, recriminations, bursts of confidence, audacity, etc. God entrusted him with a mission that seemed to go beyond his ability, that of presenting himself to the people of Israel in order to exhort them to change their lives! In his confusion, Jeremiah resisted: “I don’t know how to speak, I am only a child.”
Would he forget God’s choice? God had said, “Before you were born I consecrated you. I appointed you as prophet to the nations, I will be with you.” (Jer. 1: 5, 8) Would he forget what he himself had already acknowledged? He had said, “You have seduced me, Lord, and I let myself be seduced. . . Then there seemed like a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones. The effort to restrain it wearied me. You have overpowered me, you were stronger.” (Jer. 20: 7, 9)
Do we, as individuals or as a community, sometimes resemble Jeremiah in the face of calls for change and transformation?
The Divine Potter at work in our lives
Each person is created unique, distinct. God has a dream for each of us. God knows what each of us can become if we accept to be shaped by God’s hands, at times to be broken by suffering. But God does nothing without our cooperation. Because Mary consented to God’s desire for her, she was able to exclaim, “The Lord has done marvels for me!” We are not always as available as Mary was. Yet God will never abandon his work; he will even take what we reject or disregard (1 Cor. 1: 28) in order to sanctify our vessels of clay and make them useful for every good work. (2 Tim 2: 21). God will always sustain us with his Word, his Bread, and his Forgiveness.
Moment for reflection
The Potter’s Song (Internet text)
Like clay in the hands of the potter,
O my people, I have been fashioning you for a long time.
Even before you were, I could already see you.
I alone envision what you can become.
And if, as happens with clay, the result is not as it should be,
I will always reshape you, never giving up.
Our fragility, a blessing?
“We are all, to one degree or another, fragile vessels . . . We are human beings in the process of becoming, therefore incomplete and always evolving, living the complementarity of gifts and talents . . . The experience of fragility benefits us, because it reveals our need to be in relationship, the need for solidarity in order to move forward together in life, and the existence of unsuspected resources within ourselves and in our surroundings.”
La fragilité. Faiblesse ou richesse ? (Fragility. Weakness or richness?) – Bernard Ugeux
Our ever-present mission
The song Signs of the Times, by Robert Lebel, reminds us that, “at any point in our life, we are given enough time . . . to live each day to the full . . . to journey towards Love. . . and to realize the importance of living in the present.” Our Constitutions support this affirmation by telling us that “we are on mission until the end of our days.”
What, then, is this mission that, without a doubt, “gently follows its course”?
Is it a mission of “closeness” or “kinship” that keeps us in solidarity with our world, an offering of humble daily services or acts of kindness, a mission of mutual collaboration, a state of self-denial or abandonment? In short, is it a call to witness to a serene life in which we know in whom we have placed our hope?
How do the two preceding paragraphs relate to my personal and community experience?
God, continue in us the work of your hands.
May our journey on earth leave traces of your glory.
A text for further reflection
As the body withers, the soul flourishes. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin recognized our ultimate fulfillment in God:
“When the erosions of age begin to leave their mark on my body, and still more on my mind; . . . when I reach that painful moment at which I suddenly realize that I am a sick [person] or that I am growing old; above all at that final moment when I feel I am losing hold on myself . . . grant me, Lord, to understand that it is you (provided my faith is strong enough) who are painfully separating the fibers of my being so as to penetrate to the very marrow of my substance and draw me into yourself.” Hymn of the Universe, # 30
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. (Trans. Gerald Vann, O.P.)
A Short Allegory
The Great Potter
From his heavenly workshop, the Great Potter
Proudly contemplated the collection of his works.
There was pottery of all shapes and forms,
Of all sizes and colors.
He desired each of these works
As a mother awaiting the birth of her child.
With care, love, and patience,
He had created each one unique and beautiful.
However the clay in his hands had often resisted.
Then he would begin again, softening it and remolding it
Until his design emerged
As an object of service or of art.
Simone Perras, SNJM