When I was a child, I used to listen to Danny Kaye singing ‘The Ugly Duckling.’ This story, written by Hans Christian Anderson, tells of a homely little bird born in a barnyard who suffers abuse from the others around him until, much to his delight (and to the surprise of others), he matures into a beautiful swan, the most beautiful bird of all. The song used to confuse me since I knew by this stage (probably about the age of three) that baby ducks were called ducklings and baby swans were called cygnets and I could not really understand how anyone could confuse the two (especially the bird’s parents) or how you could change species as you grew up! Presumably at that age I had not grasped the point of allegory, or how imagery and metaphor worked…!
Whether due to the influence of the song or not, however, I have always loved both ducks and swans and eventually understood that cygnets don’t really look like swans when they are born, being much darker in colour, and that the song is really talking about what it feels like to be ostracised or ridiculed because you look different and how transformation is both possible and a pathway to acceptance.
On a recent visit to Wales, we stopped off for lunch at Worcester on the way home, a favourite place because on the River Severn, there is a swan colony.
And there in among all the swans, I saw one which wasn’t quite yet adult. It was not quite ‘stubby and brown‘ like the ugly duckling, but it certainly lacked the brilliant white elegance of the adult swan:
Transformation is part of the everyday process of life for a Christian. 2 Cor 3:17-18 reminds us that as we gaze on God, He is transforming us into the image of His Son. Most of us feel more like ‘ugly ducklings’ than beautiful swans, if we are honest, and there is a sense in which our transformation will not be complete in this life (we’re waiting for the day when He will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body, see Phil 3:21, 1 John 3:1-3, 1 Cor 13:12). Nonetheless, we need to remind ourselves that God’s ‘not finished with me yet’ (Rend Collective, ‘Create In Me’) and that the artistry and authorship of God means we are works in progress:
‘Jesus, You’re the author
Writing all our futures.
The story isn’t over,
You will make it shine.’ (Rend Collective, ‘The Artist’)
One day, our transformation will be complete. In the meantime, let’s not give up on all the ugly ducklings out there: the lonely, disenfranchised, misunderstood, hurting and different people who maybe don’t fit in, but who are still loved by God and to whom the welcome of acceptance and transformation is offered. And for all of us who feel more like the ugly duckling than the beautiful swan, let’s meditate on the fact that:
‘You make our lives
Bright and beautiful,
Wild and colourful
You are the artist.’ (Rend Collective, ‘The Artist’)