Six weeks ago I held an egg for 20 minutes.
I didn’t think it would have such as profound an effect on me as it did.
This activity was not quite as weird as it sounds. I was at a ‘quiet day’ and the egg holding exercise was suggested to me by my spiritual director.
(Okay, I agree… there are a number of concepts in that last sentence that will still sound pretty weird to some readers readers but for the sake of brevity put these down to ‘weird vicar activity’ although anyone can have a quiet day or a spiritual director).
Anyway, back to the egg. It wasn’t any old egg. It was an incredibly beautiful painted blown egg, very precious to my spiritual director. So precious that no one else in her household ever handled it.
And she told me to hold it!
In fact, she told me to carry it around with me all day. I couldn’t quite manage that. It was too scary. I knew how much she loved this beautiful object and I could not face the thought of admitting to her that I’d broken it at the end of the day.
Here are the thoughts I wrote at up at the time:
It would be nothing, this eggshell, worthless and long ago thrown away in the refuse, were it not for it’s beauty. The care, time and love poured over it by the designer and creator who selected it, prepared it and painted it.
It has no goodness in or of itself. It is incredibly fragile and if it were to be carried through the course of an ordinary day it must be gently held and protected or it would almost certainly get damaged, knocked or even crushed.
It is not a robust or strong thing in itself. It is very likely to ‘crack up’ under pressure.
There is only one thing it can do (and it does that very well). It can rest in a protected place and reflect the creativity of its creator and the care of the one who carries it and protects it.
It can simply be, it cannot do anything, it must allow itself to be held, displayed – it speaks silently only by its presence.
That was then and this is now, six weeks later.
During the last six weeks, I have often remembered the egg and reminded myself that I am that egg. I am not as strong or robust or even as useful as I’d like to think I am. I have also reminded myself that in order to survive I need to remember I am carried and surrounded by God’s protection and love.
At the time of the egg exercise I was feeling very pressured: ‘everyone wants little pieces of me’ I had moaned to my spiritual director.
That reflection on my fragility sunk in slowly over the next few weeks and bore much fruit.
I came to preach on the story of the feeding of the 5,000 and thought about how the little boy gave away (most likely) his WHOLE lunch, (just as I am asked to give away my WHOLE self but sometimes I resent this): ‘What if God can multiply everything I give away?’ I wondered (and later challenged my congregation). Wouldn’t I then feel quite differently about giving away my time, my money or my energy? What if every little act of faithfulness, every gesture of love, every word of forgiveness, every little bit of joy and thankfulness and peace was multiplied and amplified by my creator and spread out in ripples that went on and on.
At the time I had seen myself like this
But why had I drawn the arrows in that direction?
Because of the ‘everyone wants a piece of me’ feeling. Ordinary things felt exhausting and threatening and the cumulative effect was of feeling attacked or hedged in, even though no one was actually being aggressive. The sheer weight of demands just felt like being ‘stoned to death by marbles’.
Wouldn’t it be just as legitimate to draw the arrows the other way round?
And what would that image express? It would say something about being able to respond out of a safe place and knowing that having given my whole self into God’s care first of all, he would know how to then distribute me and also that from me could come not just a response but an amplification of the love, peace and security in which I was held.
Same situation: seen completely differently: complete transformation.
Shortly after my ordination one of our Bishop’s sent me a bookmark I keep in my bible, I think it is a quote from Gregory of somewhere (sorry, someone who reads this will tell me no doubt)
“When you have become God’s in the measure he wants, he himself will know how to bestow you on others. Unless he prefer for thy greater advantage to keep thee all to himself”
So today, whatever you are doing: remember you are an egg. Perhaps also remember that everyone around is equally egg-like: fragile and beautiful in equal measure.