Monday, July 23, 2007

The Chambered Nautilus

I spent some time searching for a name for this blogspot. Only one name seemed to fit: The Chambered Nautilus. My dear friend thought I should explain why. The nautilus shell became a very important symbol to me over a year ago. Serendipity and sychronicity abounded then and continues now. I wrote the following in July 2006.

While flipping through a small book in our library’s work space I unexpectedly found an extraordinary image. No one (not even me) was aware of the tidal wave that was beginning. My eyes burned and my chest tightened. It was a photograph of a sliced, chambered nautilus shell. The sheer beauty and perfection of the design whispered to my soul. The Apostle Paul said God’s “eternal power and divine nature would be clearly seen” (Romans 1:20).

As I stood mesmerized, a friend walked through, and I showed him the nautilus shell. I whispered how much it touched me. My voice was thick and my eyes filled with tears. He wasn’t surprised; he said it was convoluted like me. (I had to look the word up in the dictionary later). I made a copy, put the little book back on the shelf, and went back to work.

A month later while reading When the Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd, I was intrigued by her experience of God giving her a symbol of her life during a particular season: a cocoon. I wanted a symbol. The chambered nautilus shell returned to me with a mysterious force and persistence. I pushed it aside. In my mind I declared the shell too primeval, too evolutionary to be from God. I wanted a more acceptable symbol for my too religious intellect. What a deception. All beauty and perfection (completeness, wholeness) is of God. I should have known this because every curve and line of the nautilus shell stole my inner breath.

I asked my friend for some more information, and he quickly brought facts and art and more photographs.

The elusive and quiet nautilus is an ancient sea creature. It grows in its camouflaged shell, which is white on the bottom to blend with the light from above, and dark on top to be invisible from the surface. As the nautilus grows it moves forward and creates a larger chamber, leaving the smaller one behind. Only the siphoning aperture remains to allow air and gas to flow through the chambers. The shell is the nautilus’ shelter, but it also becomes its ladder: the creature uses the abandoned chambers to control the depth of its ascent and descent in the ocean.

I was amazed by this creature and its shell. Once again I set it aside thinking I would find another symbol of my inner change. I wanted a legend for my inner map that would show what was happening inside of me. The tidal wave continued to grow. A couple of weeks passed— my search futile. I still didn’t understand; I wasn’t seeing. But when God wants our soul’s attention he is persistent. I decided to read Sue Monk Kidd’s The Mermaid Chair. Her non-fiction had rubbed my heart raw only to turn and massage salve into the wound. I wanted to read a work of her fiction. I opened the book and on the first page I found a sepia-washed, line drawing of a nautilus shell.

I knew God was vying for my attention. Quietly and gently, but with a great persistence I could not ignore. But what was God trying to say to me? What did he want me to see in this shell and connect to myself?

Later, I began reading. Maybe the drawing was for decorative purposes; it certainly fit the theme of the book. The main character, a woman named Jesse, made this observation about herself: “…It was like slipping into a nautilus shell. I simply withdrew, winding down through the spiraling passageway to a small, dark hospice.”

And then a thought fell on me—startling me with its weight. The tidal wave had become a tsunami.

As the nautilus grows it moves forward creating a larger chamber to house its new growth. With vivid clarity I realized I have not moved onto the larger chambers. They are there; my Father created them for me. But over the years I have retreated back through the “spiraling passageway” to the innermost chambers in a futile hope and attempt to find a safe place of shelter. In this moment of revelation I saw my convoluted self squeezed into that tiny birthing chamber. My body contorted to fit its contours.

My fear and insecurity drove me inward in search of a “small, dark hospice”. It has certainly been small and dark, but I am not so sure it has been hospitable. I created my own self-imposed prison. Instead of growing and moving along each chamber, I have remained here—contorted and folded in upon myself.

I could be floating out in the wild, vast ocean. I could move forward in my chambers and push air backward and lift myself up to the surface or I could deplete the air in those same chambers and drop to the dark, quiet depths. The chambers of my past could be my ladder. Out of fear of failure and outgrowing my shell I have remained where I am—floating at one depth. I have been deceived by the illusion of security. Am I deformed from my stay in the inner chambers? Am I handicapped because I squeezed myself into a place I no longer fit? What would it feel like to stretch out these long limbs of mine?

What would it be like to completely uncurl? In my mind uncurling would be a luxury. To push past the wall of this tiny, confined chamber and extend outward; I would touch water before I found full extension. I would need a new shell. To push air out of me into the receding chambers and ascend toward the Light would be bliss. I cannot resist; I cannot resist the Light—he has sustained me in my cramped chamber because there was no room for anything else. Only light and water could penetrate the dark confinement and fill the gaps and spaces around my compressed body.

This is an epiphany for me. How gracious is my Father’s understanding toward me. He speaks to my soul in images and symbols knowing they penetrate far deeper than words alone. He knows I long to have something to see—a reminder of his unfailing, all-knowing love for me. The ocean has always been my place of refuge—the place that shouts the eternal power and divine nature of God. Of course he would give me something that belonged in its depths to show me myself.

The ancient nautilus shell. I think my Father is delighted because I finally made the connection: I must move outward along the spiral passageway. This chamber can no longer contain who he is asking me to be. This small, dark place cannot contain the enormity and density and translucency of his light.

I have found my legend for the map of my inner landscape. Chamber by chamber he will bring me forward. He will enable me to use the tiny chambers; they are a part of me. He will teach me to use them as tools to ascend and descend the heighth and depth of this great ocean. Even now I can feel myself uncurling and stretching—extending who I am. Oh the eternal power and divine nature of our great God!

2 comments:

Mac Goddard said...

You keep this up and you will soon have an vast audience of thirsty souls coming to your blog to eat and drink from your rich and deep well-spring!

elmogus said...

The mathematical complexity and yet simplicity of the chambered nautilus have long been studied by mathematicians.

Does the Golden Ratio apply or not? The logarithmic complexities are irrefutable.

No matter how you look at it, God's hand in the design is obvious.

Look in the mirror my friend. You will see the same.