Brown and furry
Caterpillar in a hurry;
Take your walk
To the shady leaf or stalk.
May no toad spy you,
May the little birds pass by you’
Spin and die,
To live again a butterfly
~ Christina G. Rosetti
I’ve been thinking about butterflies a lot lately.
Not the ones fluttering around, flitting from flower to flower… No, I’m thinking about the ones trapped in a chrysalis. The ones who aren’t who they were but also not who they’re going to be. The ones who are surrounded all around by a protective shell while they liquefy…
I’m thinking about the ones who are becoming who they will be.
We have all seen caterpillars. When I was a little girl I was enraptured by the tent caterpillars that occupied (and subsequently destroyed) sections of a tree in our yard. I would go out with my glass mayonnaise jar with the holes poked in the lid, and harvest a couple from the tree. I’d prop a stick in the jar and drop a few leaves in there. And I’d watch them for a few days.
My mom told me, “Why do you want to keep tent caterpillars? They’re useless, they’re destructive.” I said, “I like them, I want to watch them. They’re caterpillars, Mom!”
So she sighed and indulged my fascination.
But I never stayed fascinated for long. After a couple of days I’d drop them in the yard and set the jar aside. A few days later I’d repeat the operation, but never stuck around to see what the little striped crawlies grew up to be.
In science class our teacher told us about butterflies and moths, and immediately I was glued. Then I was surprised. You see I thought when they cocooned themselves and hung from a branch maybe they shrank and then grew wings. I never knew that in the process they became, effectively, DNA soup.
What the caterpillar once was completely died. No, it was still alive, but what it had been was unrecognizable. According to the Scientific American in its article “How Does a Caterpillar Turn into a Butterfly?” the caterpillar in its silk cocoon (a moth) or hardened protein chrysalis (a butterfly) begins by digesting itself.
How odd. How counterintuitive — what good can come of something DIGESTING itself? Well, if it’s going to mature, it’s got to. In this mystery, certain cell groups survive and become aspects of the grown butterfly (eyes, antennae, wings, etc.). Submitting to liquefaction releases enzymes that digest all the butterfly’s existing tissues. Funny thing is, even before the process begins, certain caterpillars walk around with tiny wings inside their bodies, completely invisible from the outside. No one would know that buried in that earthbound creature is the means of flight. Now some species keep aspects of their original caterpillar form, such as muscle structures and bits of the original nervous systems. But, effectively, what emerges from that chrysalis after the set time passes is nothing like what went in.In the mystery inside the butterfly chrysalis, rapid-fire cell reproduction is occurring, fueled by the protein-rich DNA soup they’re in. Cells increasing a thousandfold, by the end of metamorphosis, these creatures could be named new creations.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
~ II Corinthians 5:17
And what was bound to the earth spreads its wings and flies, flits, soars — sometimes traveling for miles and miles. What the caterpillar could never do, the butterfly is uniquely equipped to accomplish. And we marvel at its beauty and amazing qualities. We’d never see this coming if all we saw was the munching, crunching caterpillar, traveling over branches, eating every leaf, seedpod or flower in its way. Who would ever imagine wings on those adorable creatures? And who would even want to change a caterpillar? Aren’t they perfectly acceptable as they are? Why would we even need them to become butterflies?
Here are some fascinating facts I’ve discovered about these flying works of art:
- There are 20,000 species throughout the world
- They live one to nine months
- Depending on the species, they migrate north to south, or south to north
- Most butterflies lay their eggs on plants that will be eaten by the caterpillar when it hatches
- They smell through their feet!
- They are food
- They are pollinators
- Some adult butterfly species eat rotting fruit, carrion and other waste (acting as little trash disposers)
- Their presence or absence is a predictor of whether an ecosystem is healthy.
And there’s so much more! But I think the most important reason we have butterflies is for God to show off His creativity and to make the world we live in breathtaking. They, like all of creation, exist to display His glory. Would any of this have happened if they had stayed caterpillars?
And displaying God’s glory is also why we’re here. We start as tiny, helpless babies, growing in the environment into which we are born. We’re hapless inheritors of all the good, bad, and ugly our parents gave us. This, the same stuff they got, combined to form the original us. We begin in our origin stories, for better or worse, and do the best we can under the circumstances.
At some point, though, we sense a stirring deep inside. We hear our Creator’s whisper, and we respond. Some push away the Voice, sometimes for years. Some are wise and turn to Him immediately, but either way the Voice persists. At a point of decision, we realize we have the choice to say Yes and follow Him or No and walk away. When we say yes, the metamorphosis begins. If we say No, the Divine Pursuit persists.
This original Yes sparks a moving from glory to glory, and it’s a lifelong process. Now of course all analogies break down and while the caterpillar is only once in its chrysalis, our lives progress from chrysalis to chrysalis. Our many liquefactions produce more and more of our Creator’s image, displayed more remarkably each time we crawl out.
Now unlike the butterfly, we have a choice: stay earthbound, voracious caterpillars ever eating and never becoming anything but older and more like ourselves in our dysfunction… Or we submit to the painful process of dying to all we were before. This means lying helpless at times, cooperating with our Creator each time for however long it takes to become the divine being we were made to be: The splendid creature hiding inside all along. The glorious one who ever submits to each chrysalis time to display more and more of our Daddy’s stunning allure.
You make everything glorious and I am Yours —
what does that make me? ~ David Crowder
We discover these transitional metamorphosis times are at times excruciating. The refinement often dredges up painful memories, sometimes flashing in so suddenly we are crushed, bleeding and crying out for relief. Other times we simply receive revelations, pouring liquid light into our aching hearts. In this submitting to every God-ordained change we learn what we would never know were it not for the liquefaction times, when all we knew of ourselves has passed away. This precarious, terrifying stage where we know we weren’t who we were but aren’t quite who we will be. It’s scary being soup.
And to submit to entering the chrysalis whenever Dad says it’s time.
But the good news is while we’re helpless on the inside, outside we’re surrounded by an impenetrable shell each metamorphosis time. We are completely cupped in our Daddy’s strong hands.I cling to you,
and your hand keeps me safe.
~ Psalm 63:8
As we emerge all weak and quivering, drying our wings, we try our new selves on for size. Clinging to Him, we absorb living Light and strength for whatever is coming. We gaze into the beams of overwhelming Love, aware of a stirring deep inside. Excitement builds and bubbles out — we know whatever’s coming it’s going be amazing. It’s going to be impossible for who we were but totally doable for who we’ve become. We know we’re going to look back on the helpless time and say without a doubt…
It was worth it.
It always is.
And as we feel our wings dry, they begin beating in time with the breeze around us…We feel ourselves pulled from the branch where our former home hangs, shriveled.
And we take to the sky and soar!
We laugh up into our Maker’s face because the updraft is Holy Spirit wind. And underneath are Daddy’s Everlasting Arms.