Ignatian contemplation is most often associated with praying imaginatively with a scene from the Gospels, but I also find praying with particular simple images to be fruitful. One image that I have found helpful in prayer is the image of the “earthen vessel.” A former spiritual director introduced me to the hymn after a particularly powerful retreat with many graces. It expresses beautifully the paradox of being a human being, with all our frailty yet also graced by God with many gifts:
We hold a treasure not made of gold
In earthen vessels, wealth untold
One treasure only, the Lord, the Christ
In earthen vessels.
This image of the earthen vessel is even more deeply rooted in the story of the creation of Adam and Eve. The term adam in Hebrew is the masculine form of the word for “earth.” All human beings are like dust and to dust we shall return (Genesis 3:19). Yet we are not simply dust, but dust infused with divine breath. When God creates Adam, he breathes his own life into that dust. Throughout our prayer lives, we find ourselves living in this tension, between our breakable nature and fallibility, and our capacity for holding the divine within ourselves.
In times of change, I have found praying with this image of an earthen vessel to be helpful. I recall once when I was grieving the loss of a person dear to me, I offered God my feelings of emptiness and sorrow in the form of the image of an empty jar. I imagined that my sadness was there inside the jar and offered it to God. I then asked God to return the vase to me to show me what he wanted me to do next.
What God returned to me was the vase reshaped into a beautiful clay flower vase, smaller but cobalt blue and a bit more ornate. The vase contained blossoming pink peonies, flowers commonly associated with weddings. Even in the midst of my sorrow, God was pointing me to the happiness in my marriage and promising me comfort and flourishing there. While the image did not entirely remove my feelings of grief, I was reminded that it’s often in being emptied of one thing that we make room for another. Indeed, it’s in our emptiness and offering that emptiness to God that we make room for God himself to enter in.
Imagine im seeing this post in May 2020, but it still have the weight to enlighten the inner man. Also being reminded of how Christ emptied himself.
The simplicity of the post its just heavenly,..
God bless you
I am re-reading this essay almost four years after it was shared online. Again I find it insightful, relevant and resonant with my life now. Thank you for reminding me of the richness in desolation and the opportunity to encounter God there. I needed this reminder today.
I’m feeling the recent loss of my only Sister. Your insight spoke to me. Thank you for today’s reflection.
You’re welcome. Peace, and may God’s healing love be with you.
What a wonderful insight, full of spiritual wisdom..
To be empty is to create space, which can only be filled again.
You are welcome. Peace.
“…I was reminded that itâ€™s often in being emptied of one thing that we make room for another.”
Thanks, I needed that!
You are welcome. Blessings.
Thank you Marina. That’s a wonderful way to pray.
Great metaphor. There are wonderful images of the potter’s wheel in Jeremiah, where we see the Potter(God) fashioning the vessel. (God) plays with the clay and patiently forms it. St. Paul also gives us the great image of earthen vessel in his letter. The St. Louis Jesuits have done great work in setting these Biblical images to song. This is an amazing gift to hear and absorb the rhythm in God’s Word and work.
Thanks. I like the St Louis Jesuits version of the song, too. What a gift.
Keep them coming, Marina! I’m a fan!
Thanks, Tim! 🙂
This was wonderful. Just what I needed to hear today. I loved the imagery and the “permission” to see everything as a sign of God’s love and care for us.
Thank you. I agree that sometimes we just need “permission” to find God where God is already awaiting.