Born again…and again

About a week ago, my wife and I had the privilege of witnessing a live birth in our backyard.

Our good friends, who were heading off on a long-anticipated vacation, had left us in charge of their “babies”: seven Monarch caterpillars, one of which had already gone into the chrysalis stage. We had seen caterpillars and chrysalises and butterflies before (our local botanic garden opens a “butterfly pavilion” each spring), but had never personally seen them change from one stage to the next.

So we watched and waited, even rearranging our living room furniture to make it easier to keep an eye on what was happening. To our dismay, we discovered that the changes happen quickly; if you don’t check every few minutes, you’re likely to miss it. Of the six caterpillars we started with, five changed when we weren’t looking. We caught the tail end of just one of the transformations, and felt fortunate.  But we worried that we wouldn’t get to see any of them actually become butterflies without great diligence.

I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that for a couple of days, my wife and I behaved a bit like obsessed people.

And praise God, our obsession…ahem, diligence…was rewarded. The one that was already in her chrysalis — we nicknamed her “Chryssie,” of course — waited for just the right moment and the best light for us to capture her glorious emergence (called an eclosion) on video. “Good girl!” we cooed, all smiles. (We’ve since determined that Chryssie was a boy. Oops.)

We’re not looking for a spot on the Discovery Channel. But this beautiful minor miracle has deeper significance for us. For some time now, I have thought of the metamorphosis of butterflies as something of a metaphor for regeneration and resurrection.

The Monarch caterpillar hatches from a tiny egg with no other purpose than to eat and grow. But it is only an intermediate form. Eventually, it stops eating and climbs, attaching itself with a button of silk to a horizontal surface. Rather than spin a cocoon, it splits and sheds its skin, revealing the shiny green chrysalis that is already within.

chrysalis2 1June
5-1/2 hours before the big event; another chrysalis in an earlier stage is in the background

Nor is the chrysalis the final stage. The shell fades, becoming translucent and then clear; the vivid colors of the adult become more and more visible. Finally, the shell splits, and a butterfly struggles out into the open air.

Caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly: radically different, yet the same. There is discontinuity but also continuity. And at each stage of the metamorphosis, what is revealed is what is already within.

I’m not trying to draw some direct and simple parallel between the life cycle of a butterfly and the course of the Christian life. Yet I confess that Chryssie has helped me ponder the mystery of the resurrection.

On the one hand, we do not yet know what we will be. In form, the butterfly is radically unlike the chrysalis. There are questions about the gospel descriptions of the resurrected Christ and the resurrection metaphors of Paul that will simply not be answered this side of heaven.

But on the other hand, there is a deeper continuity within the discontinuity. The chrysalis doesn’t simply disappear, to be replaced in a wink by a new life form. Slowly, the adult’s true colors are revealed from within, long before the shell is broken and a new life emerges.

We are being transformed, renewed. One day, we will burst the bonds of our present existence, to enjoy the fullness of resurrection life, and we do not yet know all of what that will mean.

2 hours after, resting in my hand

But the purpose of our transformation now, our being made more and more into the likeness and character of Jesus, is not for that change to be set aside in the resurrection. Quite the contrary. Others should be able to see in us now what we will become, on the day when our true colors will be fully revealed.

So long, Chryssie; be well. And thanks for sharing your miracle with us.

2 thoughts on “Born again…and again

  1. Beautiful! In fact, the whole lifecycle of the monarchs are a wonderful lesson from the Lord. Especially the generation that leaves on their winter migration. While the normal life expectancy of the Monarch is 2-6 weeks the generation that migrates to winter in southern regions lives anywhere from 6 to 9 months. It also makes the 2,000 to 3,000 mile trek from the north down into Mexico where it rests and waits for the winter to be over. Then they mate and start a new set of generations which have the “normal” life span. Someone wrote as to how they thought the monarch was “poorly designed”. I bet the Lord gets a laugh out of that one. Thanks again for the video and great reminder.

    1. It’s been a marvelous experience watching the little critters go through their phases. Five more eclosed and flew away this morning. There are life lessons galore to be had…

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