Did you know that caterpillars are not “transformed” into butterflies? In metamorphosis (the name of the process), a caterpillar is liquefied. Only after its actual death can entirely new creature, a butterfly, emerge!
But most people’s image of the process is more like Eric Carle’s classic children’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar, in which the little caterpillar “makes a cocoon around himself and goes to sleep, only to wake up a few weeks later wonderfully transformed into a butterfly!” (amazon.com)
The Very Dead Caterpillar would probably have sold fewer copies. But it would have been more accurate.
When I was a kid, I used to love going to La Mirada Creek and catching those pudgy little pre-frogs we called pollywogs (you may have known them as tadpoles). I would bring them home and dump them into a tub, and then watch with fascination as they shed their tails, sprouted legs, and crawled out like showroom models: “The new Frog!” That’s transformation (“change of form”) and it’s majorly cool. But it’s not what a caterpillar does.
A caterpillar dies.
After building its own coffin (cocoon), the caterpillar seals itself inside—and dissolves. And then, in a process only vaguely understood by scientists, that stew of free-floating genetic material undergoes a total metamorphosis (“change of nature”).
In other words, butterflies are not souped-up caterpillars, they’re entirely new creations made from caterpillar soup!
Not surprisingly, caterpillars and butterflies are used as spiritual symbols in virtually every culture on earth. But because the real process is so radical and so little understood, they’re nearly always represented as symbols of transformation, rather than metamorphosis. To be fair, many religious teachings do help people become better caterpillars.
But that’s not enough.
According to Jesus, God doesn’t want souped-up caterpillars, he wants butterflies. He wants us to die to ourselves (Luke 9:23-24) and become completely “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Just like caterpillars do.
The Apostle Paul (in the Greek language of Romans 12:1 and 2) describes the process of metamorphosis like this:
“Present your bodies as a living sacrifice (build your cocoon and get in!), holy (‘set apart’), acceptable to God (nothing short of metamorphosis can accomplish this)… Don’t be conformed by (don’t take on the ‘shape’ of) this world (or ‘age’ or ‘era’), but (instead) be metamorphosed (changed in your very nature) by the renewing (‘regenerating’ or ‘re-growing”) of your mind (incidentally, the Greek word for mind is psuche—the same as the Greek word for butterfly!) so that you may be discerning (only by being metamorphosed can you know) what is the will of God (as opposed to the will of a dark and broken world), what is good, well-pleasing, and perfect (‘complete’ or ‘whole’—in contrast to the incompleteness and brokenness of this world).”
Caterpillars and butterflies are the world’s most popular symbol of transformation. But they’re also a far more powerful and challenging metaphor than most people realize.
It’s still the beginning of a new year. What better time to start over, not just as “the new You!” but as a completely new creation!
Are you ready to start work on that cocoon? Thanks Mitch, much appreciated, theRooster