Weekly Edgework #68 - October 17, 2005
Ordinary, Decent Eggs
It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird; it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must hatch or go bad. (Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis, p. 165)
I meet people regularly who just want to be ordinary, decent eggs. What’s wrong with just remaining who I am right now? they ask. What they are really telling me is that, while they might have had dreams of learning to fly in the past, they have now given up on such aspirations. Life has been hard on them. They have been hurt. And they have lost hope of ever becoming anything other than who they are right now. They will just lie low – like an egg in a nest - and try somehow or other to make it to the end. It will be enough for them if others at least will have thought of them as an ordinary, decent egg.
The problem of course is that eggs were never meant to just remain eggs. In the natural order of things, the only purpose of an egg is to hatch – to give birth to a bird with wings designed to fly. If it doesn’t hatch it will eventually go bad. Have you ever smelled rotten eggs? I think it is perhaps one of the foulest odors on earth. You won't really notice it, however, until the shell of the egg cracks. But eventually rotten eggs lying around get cracked and broken as they are knocked around by the vicissitudes of life. And then it becomes apparent to all what has “actually” become of that ordinary, decent egg.
It is really quite impossible to stand still on the journey of faith and life. As John Bunyan illustrated so starkly in Pilgrim’s Progress, life is not a state but a journey. The scriptures are also clear that the life of faith is a pilgrimage. For these laws of yours have been my source of joy and singing through all these years of my earthly pilgrimage. (Psalm 119:54) Yet I have noticed a bent in many people toward viewing life as a static thing. Somewhere early on in life – usually when they have not yet experienced the shadow sides of life – they drive in a post and declare this present experience to be the real thing. And then they spend the rest of their lives trying to rationalize that place in life to be normal for the years that remain.
But, alas, that enterprise becomes as difficult and preposterous as learning to fly while remaining an egg. Yet so many of us keep trying it, largely because we think that will be easier than actually hatching into the life we were meant to live. In fact it is harder. It means having to squeeze life’s experiences into boxes ill-suited to contain them. It means building defenses against the lessons of faith and life that come knocking on our heart’s door. It means shuttering up windows that could have let in sunlight. It means cloistering one’s self in a world that revolves mostly around one’s own experience. It means tuning out the many calls that beckon us to engage the world, respond to its pain, and participate in its joy.
With enough effort and luck, it may be possible for some persons to develop the illusion that their pilgrimage is over, that they have settled down to remain unchanged from here on in. But it will in fact be an illusion. The shell might look static, but the rotting process will invariably have already begun on the inside. I am becoming increasingly aware of seniors who never really hatched – who always remained an apparently stable egg in the nest of a reassuring religious ghetto. Through much strenuous effort, and with the help of religious practitioners trained to protect eggs from cracking, they have been able to keep their shells somewhat intact most of their lives. But now, no longer able to put up the effort and their religious practitioners having moved on, they gradually become aware that they have missed the flight. The worldview that seemed to serve them so well throughout life now leaves them bewildered and lost. It is heart-wrenching indeed to hear a life-long supporter of the church ask through tear-filled eyes, “Where is God anyway?”
That is why I recommend hatching instead of trying to remain a good egg. It is the only way to avoid going rotten in the end. While it appears to be the more difficult of the two options with respect to an egg, it is in fact the easier of the two if one is willing to stop the defensive work of protecting eggs. Most people are surprised when they discover this. But why should they be surprised? Is it not by simple logic that we come to understand that to participate in a natural process for which one is designed is easier than trying to divert the process in an unnatural way? As Alan Jones suggests in his book, “Reimagining Christianity” it simply means focusing on concepts like authenticity, honesty, integrity, transformation and love. (p. 42) That is what we were made for.
A simplistic view sees the hatching process as a one-time event, say, when you come to faith in Christ. However, I have come to see that hatching possibilities come with you all along life’s way. Always, and in every situation of life, there is the call to learn and grow, to keep developing into something you were not yesterday. When we heed that call we come to understand that there is joy in the journey, that there is pleasure in becoming. At least that is what I experience. So I hope to keep hatching.
…they shall mount up with wings like eagles…(Isaiah 40:31)