Thursday, March 10, 2011

Shedding Shells

I don't actually care for the taste of lobster.  I know, I know, it's a high-priced crustacean and a carrier for butter, and the latter usually means I think it's a fine food.  And don't get me wrong:  I'll eat lobster drenched in butter.  I just prefer a nice rare filet sizzling in butter.  About the only thing I won't eat with butter are brussel sprouts, but that's another post.

What I do like about lobsters:  they remind us about lenten growth.  Actually, almost all of nature has some truth about God or the cycle of faith in some way.  But we're in lent, and lent is an old English word for spring, and spring is about growth (just so you follow the logic).  And lobsters, like most living things, grow.  They are hatched into the sea world looking a great deal more like mosquitoes than lobsters, and live as floating little bugs until time passes and they begin to resemble the lobsters most of us see in the restaurant tank.  Lobsters are crustaceans, meaning they have a shell.  A nice, hard, protective shell that discourages all of the other neighbors under the sea from eating them.  Underneath that shell, the living tissue that is the body of the lobster grows.  Lobster shells lack spandex, so when the living body of the lobster grows to a certain size, something has to give.

That something is the shell.  Thus, our lobster friends molt.  They shed their shells in a process that, after reading, pretty much ensured I won't eat lobster for a while.  Now we have Mr. Lobster who has outgrown his shell and molted said shell.  Because the option is shed or die, and the natural process is to to live a bit longer and molt.  Except there's a catch (isn't there always).  To grow and live, our lobster friend must be exposed to all manner of danger until the new shell hardens.

Yep, Mr. Lobster is now Mr. Naked Lobster who wishes he could live in a pineapple under the sea until the new shell becomes hard enough to discourage others from dining on lobster lunch.  Eventually the newly exposed shell hardens and the lobster continues to grow until the whole process begins again.

Growth, apparently, involves risk for many levels of the created order.  Lobsters and humans are no exception.

While we like growth in theory, it always comes with risk.  Always.  As our souls grow, the shells we've developed from previous experiences and older understandings must be shed.  Of course, we can resist growth.  We can decide that life and faith as we've lived them are completely perfect, so any need of growth is always someone else's problem and never ours.  Many do, and I direct them to look at ancient pictures of Chinese foot binding, because when growth is stifled, deformity will be the consequence.

But when the growth cycle is allowed, we will find circumstances where God is calling us to shed our shells.  That itself is a fairly unpleasant experience, as we've blogged before.  But even more frightening seems to be the time afterward, after we've shed the shells of previous expectations and assumptions, after we've released old ideas and older prejudices, and we are naked in the universe on our journey with God.  We might not be where we were, but we aren't safe (or at least our version of safe).  We are exposed and vulnerable to the forces that would discourage us from growth; that would convince us that the old ways are just fine and we should go back to our old selves; and that would whisper words of anxiety and doubt. We should go back and find our shells and squeeze ourselves back into them.

Can't breathe?  That's okay.  You're safe.

Can't move?  That's fine.  You're safe.

Can't live?  That's fine.  Better to die safe than to live vulnerable.

Because that's the price of straining to live in our old shells and refusing to grow.

Living without a shell is frightening, for good reason.  But the Lenten journey of Jesus and his friends reminds us that living in constant fear of anything is tantamount to ceasing growth.  Growth happens when we realize we were wrong because the cock has finally crowed three times; when we recognize we can't stay where we were, even if we aren't sure where, exactly, we are going.  Growth happens when we choose to walk away from hurtful relationships lived on another's terms and feeling akin to settling (because it is), even when living on our own terms may mean we seem to be alone, for a while.  Growth happens when we are disappointed in a situation, and decide to take responsibility to change.  Growth happens when we recognize a hurtful, distressing pattern, and we're done with responding in the same old way.  Growth happens when living under rocks because we're afraid we'll be eaten just doesn't work anymore, and we venture forth.  Growth happens when we lose sight of the shore and dare to sail on the open sea, trusting that the ruach of God will guide us to new adventures.  

So this Lent, I pray that skins and shells are shed (take Advil when the pain gets bad), and that we are vulnerable and brave enough to grow.

The other option won't allow you to wear cute shoes.

5 comments:

jevcat said...

Wonderful. Thank you so much for your on-going ministry through this blog.

Fr Chris Arnold said...

I've got a Brussels sprout recipe that you'll like.

wired4inspiration said...

Thank you for this. As someone who is just now facing a big "shell shedding" I greatly appreciate this thoughtful perspective. It does indeed come with fear and uncertainty and the image of the vulnerable lobster rings true for me. But, the idea of retreating back into the supposed comfort of the certain (with its stifling lack of growth) is equally unappealing. Thanks for helping me to see that even more clearly.

Laura said...

This is the sermon that will roll around in my mind and my heart this week. I realize that I have been on a Lenten journey for a year now. I used to hate Lent because I'd rather be safe, as you so well described it. Thank you - from a person in the pew.

trista said...

thank you...