The Cross, the Goo, and the Butterfly

Fr. Jeremy | 17 September 2021

I once watched a video on how a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. We all know about the hungry little caterpillar that devours everything in its sight. It then builds a cocoon in which it encases itself.

But then something fascinating happens.

The digestive enzymes in the caterpillar seemingly go crazy and digest the entire bug. The caterpillar’s body becomes a slimy, formless goo. What was once a caterpillar is now a puddle of ooze. Miraculously, the pile of ooze encased inside the cocoon will transform into a beautiful butterfly.

In this process, I see a reflection of our lives when we encounter God. We are lowly creatures crawling about in hardships and sins. Like the caterpillar, we consume everything in our sight that will make us feel better.

But then we encounter God and the Orthodox faith. We see in the examples of the saints: these men, women, and children who transformed, spiritually speaking, from selfish little caterpillars to beautiful butterflies.

But how did they do it? The answer lies in the Cross and that pile of goo.

When we encounter the Cross, we encounter a call to death. We put to death the old man that crawls on its belly in sin, consuming everything in its path like the caterpillar. We put to death our fleshly lusts, our desire for praise, our desire for power and control, and our self-will.

Our Lord reminds us to take up our Cross daily and follow Him. This is not a one-and-done kind of thing. It takes time — just like the time it takes for the digestive enzymes in a caterpillar to break down the creature’s entire being. Likewise, the grace of God – and the power of the Cross working within us – begin the decades-long process of breaking down our love for sin and our egoism.

Like the pile of goo, this is a messy process. Everything the caterpillar assimilated into itself during its short life must be broken down. What sort of goo do we have in our lives? Not only sins, but ways that we have been hurt, betrayed, abused, abandoned. All these things shape us and contribute to the earthly caterpillar body that must be broken down.

It is fascinating that when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, the goo is not removed while something else takes its place. Rather the goo is the very material used to transform the lowly caterpillar into a butterfly.

St. Paul wrote, “Where sin abounds, grace all the more” (Rom. 5:20). Such a statement does not give license to sin freely but explains that a light shines brightest in the darkest of places.

And some of us have been through some very dark times.

I don’t remember the exact quote, but Fr. Thomas Hopko once said something about how when we come to Christ and begin the life of repentance, we realize we will spend the rest of our lives dealing with the things we experienced in our youth.

We are shaped by the various forms of pain, shame, abandonment, and unmet desires to be loved that we experienced in our early years and throughout our lives. These things cause us to spend the rest of our lives seeking comfort in what the world has to offer or in a desire to control our surroundings.

But today our Lord beckons us to enter death with Him, to come to the Cross to die with Him so that we can be transformed in Him. The Cross and the Church are our cocoon-tomb in which the miracle takes place.

The nasty pile of goo that was all our sinful and terrible experiences in life somehow, miraculously, becomes the stuff that God transforms and divinizes into holy beauty. Scars become beauty marks.

God doesn’t remove our gooey slime. He waives no magic wand over us to make these things go away or make the past no longer hurt. These experiences go with us to the Cross and die with us there. But then God takes this seemingly useless material of our life to create beauty. And how He does so is as mysterious as the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly.

Whatever our pain or struggle may be, God invites to bring everything within us to the Cross. While the Cross is death it is not destruction. God has no desire to destroy us. Much the opposite!

These things that we have assimilated into ourselves and have shaped who we think we are, will become the very material that He will divinize into a beautiful creature of light.

The transformation is painful and mysterious. Crosses are not made for comfort! If we abandon God, we will die in our cocoons. But, if we are faithful and struggle, we will become divine and radiant creatures shining as the stars in the night sky.

May God help us to embrace whatever crosses we carry, to no longer run, and to bring everything into Him to die with Him that we might rise with Him.

Photo Credit: Cocoon by PrimerVuelo

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