Last week, a coalition of conservation groups and scientists asked the US Fish and Wildlife Service to designate the monarch butterfly as endangered, citing the fact that their population has declined 90% in the last 20 years. It is speculated that rapid development, especially wiping out milkweed, which is vital to the development of these incredible insects, may contribute in large part to this precipitous decline. This has implications for our species as well, as other pollinators such as bees are also experiencing rapid decline, and we are dependent upon pollination for so much of our food.
Reading that statistic was shocking. I remember one autumn, when I was a kid, seeing monarchs stopping in a park across the street from my grandfather’s house on their way to Mexico. I grew up in Oklahoma, right in the middle of the monarch corridor, and my childhood is filled with memories of the abundance of monarchs as I spent as much of my childhood as I could outside, thanks to a mother who wanted us to experience the beauty of creation and who also wanted a quiet house during the hot days of summer.
A couple of years ago, my kids noticed that a caterpillar had built its chrysalis in the frame of our sliding door onto our back deck. It seemed an odd choice, but the kids really got to see something unusual: how, each day, the caterpillar transformed. Not many people would judge a caterpillar to be a thing of beauty, but once it creates its cocoon, it is indeed transformed into something breathtaking and delicate.
I was thinking of this as I pondered the readings from the Epistle to the Romans that we have been hearing in worship the last few weeks. Paul’s point in chapter 12, echoing so many verses in the gospels, is that we need to be transformed continually. We are to respond to events outside us in ways that the world does not expect: Bless those who persecute you; seek not honor but humility; repay evil with kindness. Take the ugly things in this world and transform them into beauty. Honor and value things that normally might get overlooked, like butterflies and bees. Take the ugly places inside our hearts and transform them through discipline and love into something beautiful, habits that draw us closer to God.
As we look around, we can see that transformation is desperately needed in our selves and in society. We see and hear too much that tells us that the only answer to violence is violence, or the only answer to being hurt is to strike back. And yet we see that this does not really answer or satisfy the original problem.
That’s part of what has drawn many of us into a deeper journey into faith. We are called as Christians to not be conformed by the world, but to transform ourselves, AND thereby the world. This is certainly not as simple as it sounds. Yet, unless we let go of our attachment to our selves, we see more separation among us, and we see more negative impacts on the world around us. Just as a caterpillar dies to its former self and emerges completely changed, we will remain stuck in patterns and habits that separate us from the love of each other and the love of God and God’s creation. And perhaps that can start with being reminded of what the butterfly tells us, responding to its silent beauty, and honoring its value and worth.
Leslie Scoopmire is a newly retired teacher and postulant for the priesthood in the Diocese of Missouri. She will attend Eden Theological Seminary beginning in the fall of 2014. She is a member of and musician at the Church of the Holy Communion in University City, Missouri, tweets daily prayers and news of note @HolyCommUCity. Her blog is Abiding in Hope.
“Monarch Butterfly Cocoon 3” by Greyson Orlando – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
“Monarch In May” by Kenneth Dwain Harrelson – Taken by Kenneth Dwain Harrelson. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons