butterflies and spirituality

The process of butterfly metamorphosis is closely tied to many spiritual symbols and themes of transformation and rebirth. The word metamorphosis is defined as “change of body or change of form” and there is no better metaphor for what happens when people of faith embrace the deepest meanings of their life and spiritual rebirth. As a person surrenders their life and all that they are to a power greater than themselves, they enter into the mystery of their own metamorphosis.

Butterflies, while acting upon their instincts and their body’s chemical changes, symbolize this so well. When the caterpillar is ready to relinquish every single identifiable characteristic that defines it as a caterpillar, it sheds it all until nothing remains. Their twelve eyes are gone, those powerful milkweed-chewing jaws are gone, as are their sixteen legs (six real and ten false), their tentacles, their striped faces; all the things that bound them to earth - are gone. And there's no turning back. It is a journey of commitment; a journey into the unknown - and therein lies the mystery. It’s such a beautiful picture of faith and surrender.

I have often wondered this: what must it be like to shed everything you know that makes you who you are, you go to sleep for awhile, then you wake up a completely different creature. Do they remember what it was like to crawl? To chew milkweed? To spin silk? To have black, yellow, and white stripes?

I am struck by the fact that they are different, totally different, yet from the time they began to grow as caterpillars they were already becoming a butterfly. What a thought. It is their destiny, not by chance or even by choice, but because that's what God made them to be. I like that. I like that God has called us, and more importantly, created us, to be something greater than we are.

Dr. Fred Urquhart (d. 2002, world-renowned monarch expert from Toronto), in his studies of caterpillars, not only discovered the very cells which would become the wing scales of the butterfly, (as well as all its other parts), but that they existed from the very beginning. It's not just their potential, it's their future --- if they continue on the journey. 

It's almost as if they earn their wings, so to speak, by the very act of surrender. By entering the darkness of the chrysalis so everything inside can dissolve into a thick liquid - a molecular soup - and then be re-created into something so astounding. In the darkness. In its greatest time of vulnerability. The most amazing changes happen during total stillness, when the pupa is doing nothing on the outside to re-create itself. It has already surrendered. It has already relinquished all that it once was to become something it's never been before. It has no more to give. Nothing. It has given it all.

It’s a picture of faith and such a sweet reward for the sacrifice.

Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over ... it became a butterfly.
— anonymous

What was once bound to earth knows no limit in the sky. The twelve tiny caterpillar eyes that could only see light and dark now see more colors of the rainbow than we can and in almost every direction. They drink from beautiful flowers. They can fly fast and far, up to 3,000 miles (2,000 miles from Indianapolis) as they migrate to the mountains in central Mexico where they spend the winter. They can fly 80-100 miles a day and arrive at the exact same places ~ and sometimes the exact same trees ~ where millions and millions of Monarchs have gone to for many, many years.

Butterflies comfort the dying and help heal the bereaved. Death is no less a mystery and it’s the same metamorphosis journey which inspires the living that gives us hope for the dead. For what is death but the shedding of our last skin, and the letting go of all that we are in order to become something we’ve never been before?

It’s the mystery, and the hope, of faith and surrender.