I am a firm believer in the power of stories to not only bring joy and pleasure (and oh, they surely do) but also to re-right things that have become slightly upended in my obstinate struggle against the fog of everyday living.
Of course there is only one Story – both historical reality and eternal truth – that redeems and transforms. But there are many stories that pull back oppressively heavy curtains and push open stubbornly creaky doors so that a sliver of light smacks us in the face and says, “You there – wake up, would you? Listen and see and taste again what you once did so deeply and fully. Best for you to exit the fog, young one. The days are sweet and many, if you would have them.”
“Trees think we humans are mostly little, flashy creatures, rather the way we think of butterflies.”*
Er. Um. Well. Oh no. Bloody bother.
Thus did a single line in a 300-page story wrestle with my curtains and doors today, curtains and doors that be heavy-hung and tight-locked for any number of days now.
Little? Flashy? Me? Oh no. Surely not. That is not the butterfly story I know. I love Jesus, so of course I will be a butterfly – meaning I will be beautiful, bright, born anew from a blunderingly dull ground-crawler devoid of all wonder. It is so very sacred to be a butterfly, yes? To change from the repulsive mundane into the beautifully spectacular? I choose that. That will be my story. (And we shall skip the oozy putrid muck in the cocoon because in my story, the caterpillar will be gently and magically transformed from one thing to another without the disgusting obliteration and grossness that never gets mentioned – too messy and unevangelium.)
Plus: I will be an intelligent butterfly, thank you, and also a deeply profound butterfly who lives faithfully and wisely for many long years instead of a month like butterflies usually do. And also who flies with purpose and grace. Because I want a better story (don’t we all) that stars butterflies-as-I-create-them, and so I will fiddle with levers and buttons and pedals and engines back here behind the tight-locked doors and heavy-hung curtains (hiding out with other Kansas carnival vagrants who also want a better story that is perhaps a bit or a lot more concerned with what others see and perceive than what I actually live and am).
The butterfly narrative is too lovely to give up. I want to keep it, but also remake it into something better, which is so typically foolish and smarty-pants of me.
The butterfly narrative is woven deep into our transformation psyches and theologies. It’s quite lovely to thus imagine oneself. We do not easily surrender our narratives. Nor do we easily surrender our illusions and schemes and dramas.
But today, the line in the story in the book in my hands smacked me right down on the ground and rattled my bones (and maybe also my teeth) and said, “I am a good story, and I thank you for loving me and reading me. But might I remind you that little and flashy is neither your soul nor your calling. Trees, my dear — trees are the thing. Think about that while you finish reading me.”
Trees. Planted by streams of living water. With roots sunk deep deep deep into Almighty love. Growing so slowly that one almost can’t notice it at first. Uncurling green leaves and bearing fruit. Resting seasonally as if life itself depended on it. Drawing life from unseen waters that flow with no end. Made of the same stuff on which Christ was hung – which is forever my humiliating shame and also my humbling glory.
You there, the one fumbling through the days with no more purpose or direction than a little flashy flitting thing. Yes, you. The flash may be beautiful and impressive, my dear – but it is short-lived, even shorter than you know. Set it aside. Set it forever aside and instead plant yourself. Plant yourself and live.
Blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)
* Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley