It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. – C.S. Lewis
This summer the Art Institute of Chicago has an exhibition of Rene Magritte’s art called “The Mystery of the Ordinary.” As the painting above, La Clairvoyance, shows, the title is an apt one. Magritte’s surreal but simple paintings make you look at old things anew, and see the indelible strangeness and wonder in all we take for granted.
I have always loved this piece, and the way it makes me think of the accompanying quote by theologian C.S Lewis. One of the first jobs of any faith or spirituality is to cultivate within us the ability to hold fast to hope for a future of wonder and possibility, even when what is directly in front of our eyes seems broken or limited. That is what I see when I look at this work.
In my own tradition of Christianity, we are very much worshippers of flying eggs. We look at a peasant who preached for three years and was executed as a criminal, and see a life-saving Messiah. We look at a world (and a church, let’s be honest) where people are selfish, and mean, and unjust, and see a Kingdom full of beautiful creatures, whom God made and declares good.
But as important as this clairvoyant vision is to our faith and life – seeing the hope in the hopeless, naming the possibilities of the present – it cannot be where we stop. We cannot be like the painter who looks at an egg and paints a picture of a bird, skipping over the in-between. That is the practice of false hope, which ignores how hard it is to break through our eggshells, bravely unfold our wings, and poke our beaks into a world of risk and unpredictably.
Skipping the hatching of discipleship is the un-Christ-like message of, “Oh, just pray harder, things will get better, it doesn’t require any change.” It is preaching the resurrection, while forgetting the pain and injustice of Good Friday, and the slow and simple relationship building of Jesus’ time on Earth.
From the vision comes the work, where we don’t just hold onto hope but live into it. We start food pantries and afterschool programs and campaigns to change laws, even if we don’t know where the money for next month’s work is coming. We show up at the mourner’s house to walk with them, even if we have no words to heal their wounds. We pray everyday, even in the moments when we’re not sure God is hearing us or if devotion matters at all.
Fly, eggs, fly! Break out of your shell, live beyond your capacity, imagine the air even as you are contained on the Earth. It will not be easy. It will not happen immediately. But God will be with you. And one day we will all fly together, carried on the glorious, wondrous, and mysteriously ordinary power of God’s grace.