“When she transformed into a butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty, but of her weirdness. They wanted her to change back into what she always had been. But she had wings.”
God’s first revelation is nature. In nature’s cycles of life, death, and rebirth we see the gospel in action right in front of us. Our spiritual journey is no different, we must journey through stages of order, disorder, and reorder. The journey of Jesus was meant to be followed and not just worshipped. Leaning into our own order, disorder, and reorder while trusting the process when we are in unknown spiritual territory takes courage. Let’s learn from the journey of the butterfly and relate this to our own path.
A butterfly goes through four stages of life egg, larva, pupa, and adult. To cross from one stage to the next involves great risk and change. A person on the spiritual path also goes through stages with each stage having a different goal. Often these stages are separated by a dark night or crisis of faith which involve creative risk.
The first egg stage: tiny eggs are laid on the underside of a leaf as the caterpillar larva is protected and growing inside its membrane. If we are lucky, we are born into a Christian home and given the protection and teaching to develop our childish and childlike faith. If not, we find ourselves saddled with a spiritual restlessness and desiring we know not what nor where to find it. Perhaps we find our way to a faith community that can do what our homes did not.
The second larva stage: when the egg hatches a larva emerges and has only one goal…to eat. The larva grows into a fat juicy caterpillar. On the spiritual path, one could call this the conversion. We are awakened to the gospel and have a personal encounter with Jesus. We have hatched! Now we have an insatiable hunger to know more and all we want to do is learn, learn, and learn. This is the time when we can’t take in enough podcasts, sermons, Bible studies and church. We amass theology and data about being a follower of Jesus. And just like the heavy caterpillar, we might take ourselves very seriously and be heavy with self preoccupation. Most of us think this is the end game and most churches park the bus here, but there is more.
The third pupa stage: when the larva stops growing, it stops eating and then forms a chrysalis. This is a mysterious stage of development because from the outside it looks like the pupa is doing nothing, perhaps dead. However, inside the cocoon the pupa is literally being digested and reformed into a butterfly. The old parts of the caterpillar are undergoing a radical transformation or metamorphosis. On the spiritual path there comes a point when we have had enough with the Bible studies, prayer groups, sermons, and talking heads. We may even think we are losing our faith. From the outside it looks like the person has backslidden or fallen into unbelief. However, inside the person is learning the contemplative path and resting in union with God beneath thoughts, imagination, and feelings. Ask them to explain what is going on and they can’t. The mother and fathers of the church have called this ‘quies’ or holy resting. The person just wants to rest in silence and solitude in the loving embrace of God. The old parts of one’s religious heritage and beliefs are being digested and brought into a higher or fuller realization. Symbols take on new meaning and belief systems become pointers to the mystery rather than an explanation of mystery.
The fourth butterfly stage: when the pupa is done forming it hatches from the cocoon through a breathtaking process and a butterfly emerges. The butterfly must struggle to emerge from the previous stage and then flap its vulnerable and soft wings to get the blood flowing into them. Once it has rested and gotten the wings to cooperate, it flies! The mission now is reproduction. On the spiritual path we must put our contemplation into action. We might have to break out of the denominational traditions we were brought up. We might have to break free of limiting relationships and theology. We will most certainly have to break free of our family system and cultural conditioning. We graduate from first half of life spirituality into second half. This takes enormous effort and struggle to emerge into a world and sometimes a religious landscape that doesn’t value contemplatives. We dare to fly because now we have learned to take ourselves…lightly. It is for freedom Christ set us free! Our mission then is to help others in their own transformation.