(Faithfully Enduring The Transitioning Stages of Life...)
The Chambered Nautilus
Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)
This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign, Sail the unshadowed main,
– The venturous bark that flings On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings.
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings, And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.
Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl; Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
And every chambered cell, Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell, Before thee lies revealed,– Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!
Year after year beheld the silent toil That spread his lustrous coil;
Still, as the spiral grew, He left the past year’s dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through, Built up its idle door, Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.
Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee, Child of the wandering sea,
Cast from her lap, forlorn! From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathed horn; While on mine ear it rings, Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:–
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul, As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past! Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast, Till thou at length art free, Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!
This immortal poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes has long been a favorite of mine. It describes the progression, or growth, in the life of the once resident sea creature that made its home there. He details the way the spiral shell, formed by the growing of the creature, speaks to the progression of life, of the ways of growth, in general. Holmes describes how, in each phase, the creature makes a new and larger space to contain his progressing form, while simultaneously closing off the space just left behind, being that it is no longer of any use to him.
This a great picture of the transitioning phases of life, those times when we are between growth spurts, physically, spiritually, intellectually or financially. The clearest thing I have for comparison is, of course, the "transition-labor" phase of child-bearing. I have done this seven times, and it is always the hardest time of the entire pregnancy! It is always the most painful, the hardest work, the most miserable time.
But usually it is also the shortest! Which made the last one was particularly challenging, troublesome and grievous. It was as though I would carry the child forever! Due to a prolapsed womb, and some very "near the end" menopausal hormones, it took three weeks of enduring wave after wave of "transition labor" which did not in fact transition anything! The intensely gripping pains would come, would stay for several hours, would vanish (thankfully) finally, without having accomplished any progress toward expelling this child from my womb whatsoever! I say "thankfully", because the relief of the pains was welcome at the time, but the disappointment of having endured them for nothing was equally bitter! And each time left me more of a mess than the one before. I finally had to seek medical intervention to achieve deliverance, since, thanks to early menopause, my womb had turned into "Hotel California". Too much Eagle's influence I guess! lol
Toward the end of the first week of this hellish teasing, I began to fight panic, which alternated between worry over my own well-being and that of my child. Not to mention the pure misery physically and emotionally of this dysfunction. I had been through this phase of pregnancy six times! I knew beyond question how this is supposed to go! But no amount of prayer, herbs or anything was causing it to get on with it! Exhaustion turned to despair, and anger that God was clearly not keeping His word to me! Yet, somehow I survived, the baby came, with a bit of help from my "friends", and all was sunny again - eventually.
But I have since pondered that experience many times. What the possible lessons were. What possible good that could have accomplished. Thankfully it ended well, and not tragically, as the potential for tragedy was there! But if I learned anything, it was that one can not count on even the seeming definite things in this temporal world, but that God is there, and even if He doesn't hup to our demands, He is working, He cares, and He will bring it all out somehow. He is the master of that!
I have endured many other "transitional" periods in life that are just like this. It is like being in the middle of a great placid sea. Now that may not sound like such a bad thing! Especially if you have just survived a great storm of some kind. At first it seems to be a great opportunity to rest! But then the boredom sets in. Then the panic begins to rise, as threatening as any waves. We are not moving. There is no way to progress. No way to get any where at all. No wind. No motor. Nothing is happening! It is unclear exactly where we are, and worse, we seem to have forgotten, or to have lost track of, exactly where we were going. And what it is that we had planned to do once we get there? What is, or was, our purpose in getting on this boat anyway?
Then realities begin to sink in, provisions are not going to last forever, and though fish are abundant, when we can catch them, the drinking water is questionable. Not only is the adventure over, but it seems our very life is in danger as well! Where is the wind? What is going on? Where is God? Why isn't He doing something?! What are we supposed to do? We are too far out to swim. Flares are most likely a waste of time. Oars are out of the question. Prayer is in order, but exactly what should that constitute? Besides, actually, I begin to feel that God may finally "have me where He wants me", but as I am completely opposed to the situation, prayer is a bit awkward.
Part of me says, "well, may as well rest, being that there is no other recourse", yet this logic is overruled by a rising unrest that keeps insisting, "SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!". The intolerable circumstances cause an inward struggle of epic proportions. The fight for trust is on! Before our situation changes we will have entered a new chamber, though it all too easy to miss the fact that something is being built during this involuntary hibernation of soul - a new season of trust, rest and patience that we did not even think possible.
Either that, or, by default we will let go of hope, and "curse God and die", as Job's wife recommended. These transitional tests of life are those kinds of "make it or break it" caliber of testing. They are not for the light-of-weight, or the faint-of-heart. But each of us will encounter it sooner or later if we intend to follow Christ. He went through it too! Remember the wilderness?! Gethsemane?! He only had 33 years of our time, so His tests had to be condensed to fit into that. The wilderness was 40 days, not 40 years for example. But being concentrated was not necessarily easier! The intensity of what He faced was humanly unthinkable. So much so, that in the Garden of Gethsemane He sweat blood! I haven't ever been that stressed. But then I have never really had "the weight of the world on my shoulders", as He did.
So where am I going with this? I find comfort in the poem, I find comfort in remembering how other transition times finally resolved. It really helps to see patterns in the overall scheme of things and not stay so focused on the present transitioning circumstances, whatever the "hold up" may be.I think David, the great King of Israel used the same strategy, which is recorded in the Psalms. Right now Gene and I feel that we are in a permanent holding pattern. And as life would have it, we never seem to get stuck in the times where we feel we are progressing! We always seem to get stuck in the downward spirals of life. The "fail" times. The "we suck pretty badly" times.
We are definitely "not there yet". In fact we really have no idea where "there" is! We know we were following Jesus when we made that last turn back there, but now He seems to be nowhere in sight, nor within ear shot. There is obviously no reason to be here, yet there is no way to leave here either! Dud. Bummer. We are alternately tempted to fret or to sleep that hopeless sleep of the defeated. But have that nagging feeling that neither is appropriate.
There are places in the Scripture where we are called to a particular action. It is written that there is time for every purpose under heaven. There are times we are told simply to "STAND". We have our position, the enemy is not moving, we have secured the hill, we are encamped. but not at war just now. We take turns watching and resting. We are waiting. That is transition. Victory can not come without some of this. Change can never be accomplished without periods of rest in between. And rest with no progressive change quickly becomes a slow, creeping death.
Remodeling is never fun while in the process, it is, in experience tediously inconvenient - yet the desired results can be accomplished no other way. I imagine the nautilus, if he were to have human emotions, would be thinking something like, "oh not again! I just got everything where I wanted it!". Yet growth is both inevitable and desirable! How we humans tend to resist change when it is not expressly our own idea, and yet pine for it when it is not accessible to us! When will we learn to live as though God really is in control of our destinies?! When will we ever learn to "Be still and know that He is God"? To acknowledge that He commands the winds that drive our barque, and to remember, that if He can bring wine from water, He bring fresh springs out of briny deeps? That we will not perish here unless we choose to abort the growing processes, unless we let go of our hope and refuse to build, and move, to the next level.
This is simply the calm before the storm. Erie or exciting? That depends on how well we trust our captain! I am out here now! I may as well work on developing that trust, I may as well go ahead and build that next chamber of security in Him. I may as well settle down with a good book, maybe fast a bit to extend the rations, and wait until He is ready for action. If I do, I may be rested enough to keep up through the next adventure! A rest test? Who knew? My soul cries out, "Aye, aye Captain!"
Having done all I can, I'll take my stand, and rest until Your next command.
I will not worry ,fear, nor fret, My God, You haven't failed me yet!
Forgive the trembling of heart and hand, I choose to resolutely stand,
Forgive the doubting of my mind, Your strength and hope I want to find.
I am resolved to see this through, my life, my all, belongs to You.
So if You "waste it", seemingly. You bought it, that is naught to me!
Yet I know You value each life at higest price,so much that You sent Your best, in awful sacrifice,
Our value of our very blood is more that we can know, and You'lll not spend a single drop without some good to show.
I can not see beyond this sea, but I trust You, Lord, to care for me.
So send Your winds or send Your rest, I stand here knowing You know best.
And when I'm tempted to falter, fret or fear, I am thankfully reminded that You are always near;
and though my temporal senses fail, My captain, You know how to sail!
So I 'll build another chamber in life's temporary shell,
knowing somehow I'll reach land, and hear You say, "All's well!"