When I was a child, I remember my teacher asking us to create caterpillars out of egg cartons. We colored it with our favorite markers and drew a smiley face on the front to make it our own. When we returned the next morning, our caterpillars “miraculously” transformed into butterflies as colorful paper wings were added and they were creatively hung from the aging school’s ceiling.
During this past year, I turned to the metaphor of a caterpillar’s metamorphosis as a spiritual image to better understand my own transformation. It is not as easy as that creative craft from a very distant past.
As we passed 400,000 American deaths last week, the pandemic continues to raise new, necessary questions. As I look back and within, I recognize that since last February, instability and fear shook me at my core. I was all of a sudden a bit unsure about all that was once secure.
This set me down a new path, one that I try daily to be one of growth. I sought out support to ask different questions, started healthy practices like yoga and meditation, and I approached this difficult journey as an opportunity to emerge from the pandemic truer to myself and to God’s design.
In a spiritual direction session over the summer, I referenced the journey of the butterfly from its humble beginnings as a tired caterpillar. I found a weird solidarity with this unique and inspiring insect.
My director pointed out that in the process of metamorphosis, a caterpillar turns into a form of mush and it isn’t very pretty. After some simple internet research, I learned that the process is not as smooth as the egg carton craft from childhood.
It turns out that the process is a bit painful. The caterpillar digests itself before its sleeping cells grow into parts of the soon-to-be butterfly. The caterpillar literally has to let itself die to become new.
This might sound familiar to Christians- death and resurrection. Other spiritual traditions call upon this similar shedding of the past. As spiritual author Eckhart Tolle teaches, it is in the crucifixions of our life where grace enters.
The beauty of the butterfly reminds us of our own inner journey’s destination and God’s amazing grace. We must first trust. Second, we need to let somethings die- be it relationships, behaviors, perspective- as they are no longer working.
A wise litmus test is to ask what might be making you tired. Like the caterpillar near the end of its journey, this might be the clue that a new beginning is not that far away.
The pain of our own metamorphosis is not an easy one. Yet, the end result should provide hope. This change, is not just for the butterfly itself. It is for all to wonder and to be reminded of the beauty and glory of God.
How often do we see a butterfly and stop in our tracks. We grab for our phone to catch a picture, or point it out to our companions as we recognize the beauty that is temporarily flying in our midst.
As we emerge from our transformation, we can also emerge as a point of inspiration. Not only will others benefit from our loving energy, they will also look within and see their own invitation to change- to let what is no longer working come to its necessary end.
In life, we will experience many metamorphoses. Each time, if we see with grateful and aware eyes, we will find the challenge as opportunity. Might we spend some time today to look within and begin to wonder how our majestic new wings will lift us to new soaring heights.
Bring this to prayer, and invite the divine spark that shines within to brighten even more. In what has been, and continues to be, a horrific year for humanity, perhaps we can emerge from it, both individually and collectively, as greater sources of inspiration and hope.