Our youngest son raises quail for sale. These quail are a nutritious and balanced meal for a hawk, eagle or owl, and they are high demand by zoos, educational facilities and others who hold captive birds of prey. On Thursday of last week, I transferred 5190 quail eggs in a brooder. The eggs spend two weeks in an incubator, and then the brooder that holds them while they hatch and mature for a day or so. While I was transferring the eggs, I was acutely aware that each little orb was a living bird, wrapped in a cocoon of calcium, and needed to be handled gently. Apparently, my diligence paid off. He sent me a picture of one of the brooder trays, teeming with little striped bundles of feet, heads and down. Our daughter-in-law says the chicks hatch into three different personalities. There are those who literally stick their heads back into the shells as if to say, “I’m not sure I like it out here!,” there are those who contentedly wade through the sea of their peers, and there are those who jump at the sides, trying to get out.
Life-giving life in an orb half the size of a brussel sprout, breaking free of its limitations to grow into something capable of creating other such orbs—I can’t help but see in it a metaphor for the spiritual growth of the human soul. Born into the human family, we find (or ought to find) protection inside the shell of our communities of faith. But the time will come when that shell is a barrier to further growth, and we must break free. Sometimes hatching is scary and we want to go back to the comfort of what we knew. Sometimes hatching is hardly noticed by the new hatchling, but those around say, “Wow, you’ve changed somehow!” Then there are those who’s hatching so immediately transforms them that they are driven to transcend any and all barriers they see around them. Unlike quail chicks, the human soul hatches more than once. More importantly, we must choose to hatch and we can share hatching. Choosing not to hatch forces us into a living death from which we are freed only when released from this temporal life. Choosing to hatch opens the door to a larger life, one that is intrinsically ours, but not automatic. The disciplines of spiritual practice teach us to hatch gracefully into the new and larger life so that we may help others hatch.
Maybe this is why I believe the Christian doctrine of the Saints in Light that we celebrate at funerals and All Saints’ Sunday. Those who have finally hatched out of this temporal life into the timeless life of God share in God’s work of helping us through our several hatchings, even as we help others along the path with us.