For us at First Parish in Lincoln the chambered nautilus, symbolic of the stages each individual passes through life, represents the next phase in the life of our church with a new minister. The nautilus is one of our planet’s most ancient sea creatures to exist today. The shell of this 500 million year-old mollusk is evocative of growth and renewal. As it grows, it moves from its small chamber to a larger one, sealing off and leaving behind the chamber of its past. But these abandoned chambers now serve as ballast tanks that help the nautilus maintain buoyancy, much as our church’s history will continue to support us as we grow into our future.
The nautilus has long inspired poets as a way to express the inner beauty of nature, creation and evolution. In his classic poem, “The Chambered Nautilus”, Oliver Wendell Holmes compares the growth of the nautilus that must “leave thy low-vaulted past” for a larger chamber to the spiritual development of the human soul. He describes it as “the ship of pearl “, a reference to the shell’s mother of pearl lining, calling to mind the walls of our own sanctuary illuminated by the rainbow colors of our prism. Ralph Waldo Emerson based one of his most powerful essays, “Circles,” on the image of growth as a spiral: “Life is a self-evolving circle, which, from a ring imperceptibly small, rushes on all sides outwards to new and larger circles, and that without end.” So may it be for our beloved First Parish.