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Freeing butterflies

Freeing butterflies

Into your hands O Father

I give my spirit to you

Into your hands O Father

I give my spirit to you

~English Translation of the Taizé song, “In manus tuas”

It has finally been warm enough in northeast Missouri to put the weekend laundry out on the line on a regular basis, and one of my favorite things to hang on the clothesline are my bed linens. There’s just something wonderful about sleeping under a sheet that smells like a real breeze as opposed to a fabric softener that claims to smell like a breeze. So you can imagine my surprise when two Red Admiral butterflies suddenly flitted out of the sheets I had just brought into the house.

Feeling sorry for their plight, I tried to free them…and spent the next thirty minutes chasing them all over the house, cursing and yelling at them for their apparent stupidity. More than once I considered just smashing them with a fly swatter and putting them out of their misery…but I have a soft spot for butterflies. I’ll be honest, I generally have no sentimentality when it comes to flying insects. But butterflies are different. Butterflies, to me, represent the wonderful intersection of vivid and delicate–their colors are often loud, almost neon, yet they battle heavy breezes with onion-skin-thin wings. Their flight seems erratic yet purposeful. They are so constantly at risk of destruction, yet they boldly perch on humans if they happen to be wearing the right color of clothing that mimics food. Red Admirals are especially one of my favorites, because of the striking color difference between their dorsal and ventral surfaces.

My first goal was to try to herd them into my bedroom with a broom and shut the door. (If you think herding cats is hard, try butterflies.) Once I got them in the bedroom, I opened the windows and took a pillowcase, shaking it at them in an attempt to shoo them out. “Surely they feel the outside air and will take the hint,” I thought. But no dice. They kept flapping around my four-light fixture on my ceiling fan. The fan wasn’t running, so to rest they’d hide on the top side of the blades. After catching their breath, they’d then flutter around the lights. All my best efforts at snagging them in mid-air were failing miserably.

All of a sudden I got a goofy idea. What if I stopped chasing after them and grabbing at them, and simply held up my cupped hands under the light fixture?

I stood there with my hands stretched aloft for a good minute or two, thinking what an idiot I must look like. The butterflies continued to bang themselves against the fixture, obsessively trying to get inside it, but always coming back out because the light was too hot. Then, without warning, one suddenly stopped–right in the middle of my cupped hands. I quickly scurried to the open window and gently tossed it out. It hastily few out of sight, to parts unknown.

“It CAN’T be THAT easy,” I thought to myself. “That has to be a fluke.”

I returned to the light fixture, repeated the process, and within another minute or two the other butterfly did the exact same thing. If I would have been smart enough to do that in the beginning, it would have taken far less time, and with far less drama.

As I looked out my open bedroom window and smelled the breeze, I thought about how those butterflies illustrated some patterns in our relationship with God. How many times do we find ourselves entangled in the fabric of the world? When we are released from those entanglements, how many times do we discover we are in unfamiliar territory? How many times is our response to that unfamiliar territory to fly around aimlessly? When we finally catch a glimpse of the light of God, how often do we proceed to bang our heads against the light fixture and get so close to the light it singes us? Most importantly, how many times have we discovered, heart pounding and breathless, as we fall wearily from over-exerting our stubborn, prideful selves, we land smack dab into God’s outstretched, cupped hands, whisking us to safety?

Then I thought about it in reverse fashion and pondered those times we angrily chase after God, reaching, straining, and pawing at the tiniest recognition of the holy, and cursing when our hands come up empty. Had we only stood still and reached for God, the delicate healing beauty we sought, would have flown right into our hungry hands.

Who are you today–the butterfly, or the butterfly chaser?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

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