Up Close, Butterflies Look Like Monsters

Up close, butterflies look like monsters. We think of them as these pretty, airy little things that flutter by and never really look beyond the shimmery wings.  But we have these crazy ideas about things like rainbows and angels and butterflies. We take out anything that we think might be the least big negative and leave only the happy bits. Somehow, we think they are prettier that way. Let’s put them all over children’s walls and nurseries. Let’s use them as great symbols of happiness and sweetness, gutted of any dark bits and saccharined, on stickers and greeting cards. We use them as we would pretty crayon colored cardboard cut outs, just the veneer of meaning, the image skinned off the top of the whole thing and stretched tight and distorted. Truth is, angels are not fat little babies, rainbows are bows of war in the sky, and butterflies are monsters. When we keep only the pretty parts and toss out the less than pretty truths that exist side by side, we miss out on some really important stuff. And we miss out on what makes the thing beautiful. It is disappointing to me when we take something that, in its fullness, is meaningful and quite beautiful and in an attempt to make it rated G for Good, we eliminate things that are hard to swallow but are what make it important.

I remember making butterflies in kindergarten by gluing different kinds of beans to an outline of wings on a thin piece of wood. The body was a mere black oval with thick antenna curling off the top, while the broad, swallow-tail wings were filled with speckled, red, yellow and brown beans, black beans that looked almost blue, tiny green beans that I suspect were peas. All coated in an iridescent sparkling layer of that kindergarten art staple: glitter! The teacher did not want us to put any glitter or peas or beans or anything on the body. ‘It’s just all black,’ she said, running her finger down the shiny black paint in the little alley between bean-filled wings to remove any stray decoration. A little void of neutrality between piles of glittered life potential.

We all know the metamorphosis from caterpillar to cocoon to butterfly. Countless times I’ve heard… and ok, I’ll admit that I’ve done this too….. pastors use this metamorphosis to describe a lot of things in the life of faith. It looks like it’s dead but Poof! Surprise! It was just a dead looking cocoon! And now it’s a beautiful butterfly!

And that’s great! But I have yet to hear anyone using that analogy to mention the fact that the caterpillar is utterly liquified in the process. The little worm like insects spin those tiny wrapping silks into their soft grave-clothes and liquefy themselves inside. It sounds terrifying; monstrous. I always wonder if it hurts. Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t. And maybe insects don’t feel pain, at least not in the way that we do. But once you look at it, that the whole metamorphosis thing seems, well, violent. I can’t think of another word for it, really. Violent. Then, it is reborn out of those silk grave wrappings as something entirely different. Altogether different. Something so pretty.

No, not pretty. You see, I think that’s just it. Butterflies are not pretty. The wings are pretty but butterflies are beautiful. And you can’t really see how beautiful they are unless you look at those monstrous bodies. That’s what real beauty is. That is where we find the beautiful, not separate from the monstrous things that are difficult to look at, but all together and bound up inextricably. Those bodies look ancient and almost reptilian. Alien and bizarre with incredibly long legs, impossibly large eyes, strangely shaped bodies that are certainly not a simple black oval lying benignly between two wings. Antenni that extend far out, sensing the world around it and do not, in any sort of kindergarten cutesy sort of way, curl!

They are vestiges of primeval worlds, miniaturized. And here, not at all by accident, on the sides of this bizarre body, extend pure works of art. Art that flies. Wings that only really matter because they lift up this strange little body and yet are in many cases truly breathtaking. The butterfly is of a single piece, monstrous body and wings of every color, together as one thing and only together do they fly. Only together are they beautiful.

Beautiful Whole

Yesterday, I woke from an afternoon nap with crazy dreams about moths and butterflies, held my hands in the air above my head and saw my red nails. Red nails at the end of plump, pink fingers. How strange. So many years spent pretending that nails and hair did not matter and that I didn’t care if I wore make up or not. Pretending that it didn’t matter how I looked. Doesn’t hurt, you see, if it doesn’t matter. And now just look at those red nails. I’m already pondering the next color.

It’s all part of one of my New Year’s resolutions. Now I know you, gentle reader, are preparing to roll eyes and launch a feminist tirade.

I’ll wait….

And believe me when I say that I have breathed every syllable you are uttering. But this isn’t about shallow facades or pretending princesses. It is about being flesh and blood. After all, it’s what all of us are. It is about identity—who I am.

It’s what’s on the inside that counts. That’s what they tell fat girls. That’s what they tell plain girls and ugly girls. And it is true, of course. The inside does count. You are not merely how you strike the eye of others.

It doesn’t matter how you look. It only matters how you think. Your personality is all anyone should care about.

That’s great. Really. Except that I am not a disembodied personality. I am not a fleshless mind that hovers through the world exuding philosophical beauty with every turning thought. I am not mere spirit floating gracefully through life. I am also flesh and blood. Real flesh and blood.

My theology teaches me that God became flesh and blood in order to redeem it. The leaves, wind, spiderwebs, cat fur, smooth rocks in the water, my fingernails and all of creation matter to God. The inside and the outside matter. Maybe the inside and the outside are not separate at all.

So I am painting my nails not because I need to look a certain way but because I want to honor my fingertips. I brush my hair and put on make up not to look different but so, with each stroke, I can tell the body it matters. And it is loved. By God and by me.

Loved is beautiful. regardless of the arrangement of features, size or shape of limbs and curves, pitch of voice or smoothness of gesture. Loved is beautiful.

I have learned a lot about what it means to be me in the mind and the spirit and the will. I know a good deal about what my heart feels like. Most women my age are beginning to see their insides for the first time in years. I, my outsides.

Once, after a long night of consistent drinking, a brilliant but esoteric friend of mine spent a great deal of energy and time explaining the word beautiful. In the philosopher’s language, beautiful includes the whole being. I asked if it meant pretty or if it meant something better than appearance. He said it meant the whole being. Flesh, bone, blood, breath, light, life, thought, memory, heart, grace. Beautiful is the whole being.

The whole—and inseparable—being. Beautiful.

Pink–and it's flowers again!

 Pink Saturday is upon us once more! Check out How Sweet The Sound for more info and more pink

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Yes, it is flowers again! And this post is full of photos from the garden of a parishoner of mine. We canned pimentoes yesterday. Last year she taught me how to can and I produced six little jars of pimentoes. I was so proud! This year we ended up with a dozen! These pimentoes come from her all-organic garden and these pink flowers were a row or so over. The butterflies were also kind enough to pose as well.4312