Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Ugly Duckling

Once upon a time, an egg hatched and a very ugly baby bird came out of the shell. At first, it was damp and untidy. Then, when its feathers dried out, everyone could see that its beak looked too big for its head and its feet certainly looked far too large for its small body.

The mother duck was most unimpressed by her baby. For a start, it was much too big. The other ducklings were smaller and tidier. How on earth could such a large, ugly bird have come from one of her eggs? It didn’t look like either the mother duck or the drake that had fathered the brood.

Yet, the mother duck had to acknowledge that, even though her ugly duckling was very ugly compared to its pretty, fluffy brothers and sisters, it was a very good swimmer. As soon as they went to the river, the ugly duckling was the first to plunge into the water. It was a beautiful swimmer.

Still, the ugly duckling’s good swimming did not save it from the cruel comments made by the other ducks. Young and old alike, they made such nasty remarks that the ugly duckling was very sad. It was so ashamed of its ugliness that, in the end, the ugly duckling went away on its own. Sadly, it hid in a clump of reeds, only coming out when there were no other birds around.

From time to time a flock of large white birds, swans, flew over the reeds. The ugly duckling watched them. They were so beautiful, so graceful. It must be wonderful to be a swan.

One day, the ugly duckling emerged from the reeds to feed. Some ducks appeared. The duckling was afraid, expecting to hear more nasty comments. To his amazement, there were gasps of admiration. “What’s the matter?” “You’re a swan!”, the ducks exclaimed. “Me? A swan? Aah, go on!” “Take a look in the lake and you’ll see”, they replied. The ugly duckling looked into the water and saw his reflection. He truly was a beautiful white swan. He wasn’t a duckling! He was a swan! Somehow a swan had laid its egg in the nest of a duck and the ugly duckling was the result. The bird that had been so criticised for its ugliness was, in reality, the most beautiful of them all!

We all know an ugly duckling. We all know someone who is criticised or ignored by others because they are not quite like the rest of us. We see ourselves as better than they are, but that’s because we don’t see them with the eyes of God. Jesus ate with the tax-collectors and the prostitutes, saying that they would be the first to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus invited the Good Thief to be with him in Paradise.

Perhaps I know the ugly duckling all too well. Perhaps I’m the duckling who doesn’t realise I’m a swan. Perhaps I’ve been so afraid to let people see the loveliness inside me that I’ve kept them at a distance. Perhaps I’ve been so protective of myself that I’ve not opened up the windows of my heart to let the light shine into its darkest corners. Perhaps today could be the day when I let the rest of the world and myself see that I’m not an ugly duckling. I’m a very fine swan indeed!

Lent is, perhaps, a time of moulting, of shedding some of the scraggy feathers that detract from the loveliness that is within me, that God placed there in his love for me. When I think I am the ugly duckling, he sees only the swan.

Lord, today let me see the loveliness that you placed within my heart. Let me celebrate your love for me. Let me sing a song of thanksgiving and rejoicing. Fill me with your gladness. Amen

God bless,
Sr. Janet