Reflection by Angie Foster (as used in her talk at Morning Worship on 16 April)
I would like to start with a suggestion – that the caterpillar should be the official mascot of Lent. Even though Lent is past for this year, it is important to understand the purpose of Lent to realise the true significance of Easter. Lent is the time for change, and the caterpillar knows all about that – or at least, he will. Lent is the time for realizing that maybe we are just humble creepers, hungry and helpless. Lent is the time for hanging in a transitional state, waiting to be reborn at Easter into beautiful butterflies!
Have you ever taken a close look at a butterfly — at the body, not just the pretty wings? Maybe we had it vaguely in our heads that a butterfly is just sort of a slimmed-down worm, plus fluttering — that the elegant butterfly body is what’s left after cracking out of a thick and extraneous chrysalis. There are 28,000 species of butterfly, with 80% living in the tropics.
However, looking more closely a butterfly’s body is something entirely different from the caterpillar. It’s something entirely new. It doesn’t even have the same bodily systems inside, the same kind of head or legs, or the same brain. Where did this body come from?
It was formed out of cellular soup. That’s what was happening to the caterpillar’s body while it was inside the cocoon: it is dissolving itself, actually digesting itself — and it’s just as disgusting as it sounds. That’s the only way that the metamorphosis can happen, the only way the new body can grow.
Perhaps we can consider for a moment that this is what God wants from us during Lent. Lent is a time not only of preparation, but of deep change. Change! Metamorphosis! Maybe difficult, painful or challenging; but necessary. God asks us to look closely at ourselves so that we are open to his love and resurrection and offer of new life in Him. Let go and let God into your life and then you will find your wings and fly!
Change will happen to all of us, sooner or later, no matter what our state in life. It is better to understand that it will happen, and not to panic when things do start to change. It is still part of the plan, when things get all weird and unfamiliar, when God seems to be asking things of us that we never would have asked of ourselves, or for ourselves. At some point, God will grab our attention by hanging us upside down on a limb, trapping us inside our skins, and turning us into mush. It’s okay. It’s part of the plan.
So Lent is a time of change, but even if you understand that this intensely, intimately transformative process is probably part of God’s will, and even if you are ready and willing to go with it and perhaps have to withstand the pain and suffering that change can bring . . . what if you don’t really like butterflies?
That is to say, what if we see something that is being presented as God’s Will For Us, and all we can think is, I am not sure that I am going to like the changes in me? Why would God make me the way I am, if He just plans to turn me into mush and start fresh?
We can deal with hard work, we can deal with pain and suffering. But our secret fear is that, if we open ourselves to change, we will not recognise ourselves. We will turn into something we won’t recognize. And even if that new thing is a good thing, what happens to us?
This fear that who we are will be lost is a desperate temptation from the world around us, which is there when we are on the verge of giving our hearts to God and trying to become or remain disciples of Christ. It’s a temptation, and a temptation that is a lie.
Here’s something else you might not know about butterflies: they may look completely different from how they did when they were caterpillars, but they remember. They remember their past life. Researchers have discovered that butterflies know things; simple things, of course, like which kind of flowers taste bad that they only could have learned when they were caterpillars, before they were broken down, lovingly destroyed, melted into goo for their own good.
If they really are different creatures from what they used to be, then how can this be? And what does it tell us about ourselves?
When caterpillars are broken down into that cellular soup, they are not simply a formless, digested mess. They’re not nothing. They’re something specific, and in that soup is something worth preserving. It turns out that caterpillars’ bodies, even from before the time they hatch out of their eggs, harbour in themselves something called “imaginal discs,” which are sort of like stem cells: they can grow into just about anything. These discs are ready and waiting, when the time is right, to become the wings, eyes, legs, antennae of a butterfly.
Furthermore, something of their neurons remain, too. Their new brains remember old flowers. As different as they become, they are still themselves.
They’re not really entirely new creatures. They’re just the full-blown realization of what they always had been. They need to retain what they had before. There was something good there, something worth saving. I was a caterpillar; I am now a butterfly. I am still me.
God has given us these days to work on ourselves, and the spiritual chemistry is already always in motion: to build ourselves into who we are supposed to be, we pray, maybe we fast and we give generously. We praise and worship Him, we keep working when we might be tempted to laze. We keep a vigil in our cocoons, alert to new ideas and fresh movements of the spirit. And we can take comfort in the idea that there are things about us right now which are worth retaining. There are things which our perfected, transformed selves will include. God likes us. He wants us to be transformed, not because what we are is no good, but because what we are is not finished yet.