Then one summer during a retreat I was asked to use a text for prayer that passage from the prophecy of Jeremiah where the prophet is sent to the potter’s house and finds him working at his wheel. And Jeremiah reports that ‘the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.’ I read it as a harsh text, this text about breaking. It made me wonder about my love for one particular person over many years. The love may have been chaste, but had she nevertheless meant too much to me? It was not a scruple. Had this love in fact absorbed too much of my time and attention? Had it in some way compromised my commitment to God? Should I not have been rather like the potter and broken it and reworked it? Yet to deny the goodness of that love seemed to me wrong. It was a hard and distressing moment. I wondered whether the particular grace of the retreat would be to discover the courage to make that break and end what I had so valued. But I could not see how that would be right. I felt bemused. Then I noticed the words which come next, ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? And I heard them, not as harsh words, requiring a break, but as gentle words, which inspire trust. And I knew that the Lord could do that, not break, but renew, rework. And I felt overcome with love and gratitude. I realized that, if I had in a way seen the two loves as rivals, I need do so no longer. I may still feel ‘the edge of the tear’, but have discovered how to live with it.
I am not suggesting that my conclusion is a solution for everyone. Each of us is unique. We handle these situations in different ways. All the same, it may perhaps indicate how someone, although celibate, may know what it means to love deeply and intimately and be faithful.