In many ways, I am still inside my shell — afraid to be exposed to the harsh-world elements, before it’s time to pop out of the safety of my hardened exterior.
At least that’s what I thought before reading today about the typical life of an oyster …“In order to protect itself from irritation, the oyster will quickly begin covering the uninvited visitor with layers of nacre — the ‘mineral substance that fashions the mollusk’s shells. Layer upon layer of nacre, also known as mother-of-pearl, coat the grain of sand until the iridescent gem is formed.’”
So, this means that my beautiful pearl jewelry is actually comprised of cycles of irritant coating that prevented mollusks from thriving and enjoying life (as much as one could)? That little tidbit of science is fascinating to me and something I’d like to understand better, from a spiritual perspective, because why not?! As this is a post from Deliver Us From Bad Theology, there has to be a
powerful minimal spiritual component, after all.
The Christian holy book mentions the word “pearl” in 7 places, mainly in the New Testament. From the Bible Study Tools site, “(Matthew 13:45; 1 Timothy 2:9; Revelation 17:4 ; 21:21) and were considered by the ancients among the most precious of gems, and were highly esteemed as ornaments. The kingdom of heaven is compared to a ‘pearl of great price.’ In (Matthew 7:6) pearls are used metaphorically for anything of value, or perhaps more especially for ‘wise sayings.’”
Realizing that a series of irritants that invaded the shell of a mollusk, could eventually (after about 7 years!) turn into a simply beautiful, little pearl is a scientific marvel. The unassuming oyster co-existed with a tiny, annoying developing pearl, then once appetizing, said oyster was consumed by a shellfish-craving human or beast of the sea. Sucks to be a mollusk!
I can find an important lesson in this masterclass of wisdom from nature. Often, the internal pain and discomfort we are going through serves a purpose, but it’s hard to recognize the benefits at the time. This is not to say that there is something to positively reap from every kind of trial. There is no upside of being bullied, harassed, falsely accused, maligned, threatened, abused, etc. You can process those unjust, traumatic situations and become more resilient and stronger, if you are willing to do the hard (yet deeply enriching) work of recovery. You may feel like giving up and avoiding to face what (or who) has hurt you. If you reach a level of willingness to be reconciled and offer forgiveness to what or who harmed you, a pearl of wisdom will be found in your soul.
This helps me personally, as I process experiences and stressful matters that I feel are overwhelming to me. A procrastinator by nature, I put off things until they are thisclose (or later) to being due. How many apologies over the years?! “I’m so sorry I was late submitting my work”, “I regret being behind on my bills”, “I’m sorry I’m always such a slow learner” … just a few examples of actual statements in my apology-loop. (That’s not just folklore because I’m a Canadian, being heavy on the apologies🇨🇦)
Yet, the shell-hiding doesn’t have to be this way. Being behind the proverbial 8-ball in life feels normal and comfortable to me. I get to hang out in my shell and feel non-threatened, until I remember the stack of papers and other miscellaneous unmentionables in my space, the emails needing responses, the self-care priorities that I’ve neglected, the glasses of water I still need to drink, the spiritual practices that were yesterday’s “Amens’”, etc. There is a false sense of security in my shell, if I fail to use the opportunities provided to me to grow, mature and self-actualize. Like a pearl popping out of an oyster, something is being produced and refined in me, but the other stuff (similarly to what junk food does to the body) distracts me from being who I should be, who I could be, who I …. will be.
“The Higher spirit is captured by a ‘shell’ – this can represent Form in its most generic sense, or one aspect of Form – the body, thus the Higher spirit imprisoned by the body. [The Higher spirit can also be symbolically represented as a diamond, both of course are precious]. Apart from the fact that a pearl is beautiful, it is also a surprise object when found in such a knobbly shell! The oyster’s shell hides the pearl from view, much as our bodies hide any indication we have spirit at all let alone a Higher spirit.” https://allaboutheaven.org/symbols/pearl/123
The tragedy for an individual being confined to shell-life, is that blossoming into the radiant version of oneself doesn’t get to happen. There are wide-ranging examples of this: being stuck at home; being frustratingly confined to a hospital bed; pacing the floor in a prison cell, feeling utterly hopeless; working unreasonably long hours at a job you don’t enjoy, with little pay; feeling stuck in an abusive or broken relationship; etc. These are all situations that can cause one to tightly disappear into a shell, while trying to avoid further damages, infections and negativity. Yet, the pollutants keep coming. Only on this side of heaven, will there continue to be things that threaten to “seek, kill and destroy” (John 10:10).
Even healthy bodies are attacked by disease, despite taking seemingly meticulous preventative measures to ensure health and safety. I am far from an expert in the spread of infectious diseases, but I have realized that in this little study on how pollutants develop into pearls, the coronavirus can blossom into …. nope, I got nothing. No benefit to this beastly virus whatsoever! It is what it is. God didn’t send it to the world, nor did a conspirator or mad scientist cook it up. God isn’t in control of it, either. To believe there is a religious compartment here, is bad theology, bad philosophy and a bad understanding of science. I am grateful for the smart people from BioLogos, who are doing the important work of bringing Theology and science together. I recommend checking out the excellent resources at https://biologos.org/ (completely unsolicited plug — I’m just a fan)
During these COVID-19 times, the trickle-down affect of the deadly virus may be felt in almost everything that touches our lives. Sooner or later, you will be impacted, if you’ve so far been immune from losing any of your prosperity, while dealing with the harmful effects of this disease. Not to cause distress or worry, but as our friends and families (including well-known people in the spotlight) have been dealing with extra troubles, the compassionate thing to do is to share, reach out, be a friend, etc. All levels of human kindness and connectedness matters. Do you know someone who has been “shelled” for a long time? Perhaps all they need, is to know that they’re not alone. They may be doing the right thing by physically social distancing during this time, but they shouldn’t also be cut off from society or feeling forgotten.My hope with this post is that we will reveal our pearls to the world. Anything that is good, useful and purified in us can be shared for the greater good. This is the kind of humanity we need in the present-day and for the time to come. Getting out of our shells (after we’ve been refined) can happen before social distancing ends. I’m working on getting out of mine, how about you?
I heard William Paul Young (yes, the incredible writer of The Shack) recite this wonderful poem last week, during an Open Table Conference meeting on Zoom and he graciously allowed me to share it as well. It might bring you encouragement today if you need to navigate out of your shell.