Friday, September 12, 2014

The Chicken in the Egg

Surah 3:  Al-Imran

Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the succession on night and day, there are indeed messages for all who are endowed with insight, [190] and who remember God when they stand, and when they sit, and when they lie down to sleep, and thus reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth;
“O our Sustainer! You have not created any of this without meaning and purpose.  You are limitless in Your glory!  Keep us safe then, from suffering through fire! [191]

A very dear friend shared a wonderful metaphor with me a few days ago, about one of God’s miraculous creations, the egg.

Let’s focus for a moment on the wonder of the egg.  Eggs are marvelous creations.  They are exquisitely calibrated with purpose and meaning, to sustain the growing chick within.  The shell offers just the right level of protection – strong enough to protect the growing embryo, but not so strong that the chick will not be able to peck it’s way out at the appropriate time.  The embryo grows for an appointed number of days – 21.  If the shell is broken to soon before it’s time, the embryo dies.  If the new chick is not able to peck it’s way out of the shell at the appointed time, it will die.  The egg and the chick co-exist in their respective roles of protector and nurturer, and growing life within.  They follow their God given roles without question or challenge.

Surah 22: Al-Hajj  (The Pilgrimage)

Art thou not aware that before God prostrate themselves all that are in the heavens and all that are on earth – the sun, the moon, and the stars, and the mountains, and the trees and the beasts? [18]

Revelation tells us that all of nature, including all the beasts, follow the will of God without question.  Now imagine, for a moment, what would happen if the little chicks in their eggs had been given the gift of consciousness and free will.  Imagine what could result.  Perhaps they, now endowed with creative intelligence, would sense that there are others like them outside their shells, and that there is a wider world beyond their own.  They might develop technologies inside their eggs, so that they could communicate with each other.  Imagine that some of the chicks who had incubated for 15 days developed the equivalent of iPhones, that could send them pictures of the world outside.  They would see the most marvelous green grass, and blue sky, and multicolored flowers, and a beautiful mother hen feeding them delicious grains.  They might get so excited and agitated that they would roll around and knock up against their shells and possibly break them open before they were fully developed, and they would die.

Imagine that some of the other unhatched chicks who had incubated for 15 days had developed only simple cellphone – like contraptions, that they could only use to talk to each other.  They had all sensed another world outside of their shells.  But the only reality they knew was inside, where they had everything they needed – food, warmth, and safety.  How could they trust that there was really someone out there who would feed them, and how could they possibly survive without their protective shell around them?  “Why give up this perfect world we have?,” they might decide.  And so they would be overcome by fear and refuse to use the egg beaks that have formed on their little heads to help them peck open their shells at 21 days.  And they would use up all their food, and grow too big for their shells, and suffocate and die. 

Surah 3:  Al-Imran  (The House of Imran)

And no human being can die save by God’s leave, at a term pre-ordained. [145]

We are similar to the baby chick in it’s egg, in that we have a number of days in our physical bodies, on earth.  Our number of days is ordained.  But unlike the little chicks, our consciousness includes the gift of free will.   Our challenge is to use that free will to glorify our Creator, even though we cannot not possibly understand the nature of our Creator from within the confines of our physical “shells.”  This is our ultimate challenge.  And we have become very, very skillful at finding ways to “go astray.”

Surah 22: Al-Hajj  (The Pilgrimage)

And many human beings submit to God consciously, whereas many others, having defied Him, will inevitably have to suffer [in the life to come], and he whom God shall scorn [on Resurrection Day] will have none who could bestow honor on him; for verily, God does what He wills.  [18]

What does that mean – that God will scorn those who defy Him?  The image we project is of a judgmental deity, ready to punish any who do not follow His will.  But remember that the Quran was revealed in 7th century Arabia, in language that would be understandable, not just linguistically, but culturally to the people of that time and place.  They did not have words or the understanding for concepts like “consciousness” or laws of “cause and effect.”  And so I must study these admonitions in Quran for their deeper meaning, for the meaning they convey to me.  And I understand them like this:  there are several places in Quran where God points out that people who have sinned have not harmed God at all, they have only harmed themselves, as in

Suran 2:  Al-Baqarah

And [by all their sinning] they did no harm unto Us – but [only] against their own selves did they sin.  [57]

 We “sin” by separating ourselves from God, in a myriad of different ways.  We have developed a plethora of technologies that we use to help us accomplish just that.  And the worst sin of all lies in taking our accomplishments and our ability to achieve  more and more too seriously – to think that we can solve all our problems ourselves, in this physical realm.  We can come to think of faith as an historic relic of human civilization, better left so that we can move on and conquer the next seemingly unachievable task on earth.  This is like the chicks with the “iPhones,” – they could “see” the better world out there and were convinced that they could take it on of their own volition.  And they were lost.  When we lose our faith that our Creator - God determines our destiny and will guide us to the next stage when we are ready, we are truly lost. 

We also “sin” by being like the chicks with the cellphones, who convince each other that there cannot be any better world than the one they are in.  We cling to what we know and trust as if that were all there is.  We worship the practice of our ancestors, the beauty of our earth, our bodies, our senses, and our creations.  We lose our innate intuitive understanding that all this is but a pale reflection of the greater Reality that is God.  We cling to this world and become corrupted and deceived by it, and we only harm ourselves.  We can cut ourselves off from God to the extent that when our time comes to leave the physical world, our spirit is so immersed in this one that we cannot move on.  To me, all the metaphors in Quran that describe hell would encompass that sad fate. 

God tells us that nature is full of signs for those who believe.  The metaphor of the chicken in the egg can be seen as one of God’s signs to us, to trust the process and purpose of incubation in this life… to appreciate the gift of our eggs – to use our intelligence and creative abilities to take care of our eggs, and to help each other do so, and take care of the physical world that supports us.  And never to forget that there is a broader Reality, Creation, and Purpose that we are part of, and will move on to when it is our time.

Surah 32:  As-Sajdah  (Prostration)

He governs all that exists, from the celestial space to the earth; and in the end all shall ascend unto Him on a Day the length whereof will be like a thousand years of your reckoning [5]
Such is He who knows all that is beyond the reach of a created being’s perception, as well as all that can be witnessed by a creature’s senses or mind:  the Almighty, the Dispenser of Grace [6] who makes most excellent everything that He creates. [7]

Surah 54:  Al-Qamar (The Moon)

Behold, everything have We created in due measure and proportion [49] and Our ordaining is but one act, like the twinkling of an eye. [50]

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