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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

Metamorphosis (continued) | September 11, 2022 by Rev. Dr. Dorsey Blake

Become totally empty

Quiet the restlessness of the mind

Only then will you witness everything

unfolding from emptiness …

Be still

Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity

Eternity embraces the all-possible

The all-possible leads to a vision of oneness

A vision of oneness brings about universal love

Universal love supports the great truth of Nature

The great truth of Nature is Tao

- Chapter 16, Tao Te Ching, Aletheia Luna translation

South African author Olive Schreiner was born in 1855. She was a suffragette and free thinker. Dr. Thurman was influenced by her writing to the extent that he edited an anthology of excerpts of her works titled: A Track to the Water’s Edge. The following story comes from that compilation.

The Winged Butterfly-Olive Schreiner

The insects lived among the flowers. They were all soft, lovely little creatures without wings.

By and by one little caterpillar began to have tiny lumps upon his shoulders that grew out and out. “Ah,” said the others, he is ugly, see, he is deformed.” And the little caterpillar hid behind the leaves, and the lumps grew more and more, and at last they came out lovely little wings. Then he came back to his fellows, and they all said. “Oh, lovely little brother.” And he shook his little wings, and he said. “It was for this I went away, for this to grow I was deformed.”

And he flew round. And he came to one that he loved and he said, “Come, climb with me and let us go and sit on that flower.” And his comrade said, “I cannot climb, it tires me; I have no wings like you. Go alone.” And he said, “No I will go with you.” And the other said, “I am going here in this little hole in the earth.” And the butterfly tried to fold his wings and creep in after him, but he could not: . . . and he said to another, “Come let us be companions.” And the other said, “Yes, I like your wings, but you must walk by me; you must not use your wings and fly.” And he said, “Yes, I will only wrap them down.” And they walked a little way together. Then other said, “You are going too fast: your wings blow you on; do go slower.” And the butterfly held his little wings as still as could. And other said, “They stick up so; couldn’t you lay them against your side?” And he said, “Yes.” But when he held them against his side, they ached so they nearly fell off. . . And the other said: What you are so slow for? I thought one with wings would go faster than another. I thought you were so beautiful when you were up in the air. You are very ugly now. What are wings for? They only draggle in the mud.”

Then the little butterfly spread his wings and flew away, away, away; and he kept far from the others and flew about by himself among the flowers.

And then the others said, “See how happy he is flying about there among the flowers, he’s so proud of his wings.”

And one day the little butterfly sat on a rose and died there. And the others thought it died of drinking too much honey. None of them knew that it died of a broken heart.

Become totally empty

Quiet the restlessness of the mind

Only then will you witness everything

unfolding from emptiness …

Be still

Quiet the restless mind, the trafficking of thoughts. It is through this that you can hear your authentic self. Be still for you rest in the mystery and immensity of existence that is always metamorphosing, being made new.

Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity

Eternity embraces the all-possible

The all-possible leads to a vision of oneness

Massaging the story reveals meaningful insights. Our winged friend did not will the wings onto itself. The wings came automatically, as a matter of course. They were part of the natural flow or rhythm of life. Change is built into the living journey. The wings were a gift of the life cycle. The butterfly did nothing to bring them into being except one especially important thing. It did nothing to hinder the process. It did nothing to stand in the way of life pushing to reveal itself in this new form. It just allowed the change inherent in its life cycle to occur.

Life is change and is always changing. Heraclitus cautioned that you cannot step into the same river twice. The river has changed and is ever changing. What was is not what is now. This always changing nature and reality is indigenous to the still evolving universe. You and I are not the same as we were one second ago. Metamorphosis is available to us always. We must not arrest its flow.

In his book, Disciplines of the Spirit, Dr. Howard Thurman says that when the conditions of life are met, when there is proper nourishment in the environment, growth is automatic. The seed will grow into a plant. For it ever seeks fruition. Life is alive and seeks fulfillment, its potential. This journey to fulfillment is woven into the very fabric of life. Henry David Thoreau declared: Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.

Another insight from the story is that transformation produces conflict within the community that has nurtured us but hasn’t itself transformed. It is an example of new wine being poured into old wineskins. Our winged friend has become a new being. The others have not. They cling, however, to worn patterns of being together that do not work for the new reality. Neither our friend nor its environmental companions understand that profound change has come, and a paradigm shift must come also. Without that our friend is constantly compromising to fit into what must be left behind. It and they are deceiving themselves about the nature of their togetherness. No! Winged butterfly could not fold its wings and enter the hole with his beloved. It could no longer walk beside them. Its pals had not been equipped yet with wings to companion their friend nor the proboscis needed for the new duties and opportunities afforded it. They were steeped in tradition to the exclusion of what metamorphosis, change, newness signaled for the community.

He was still speaking to the crowds when his mother and brothers came and stood outside; they wanted to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him this, "Who is my mother? and who are my brothers?" Stretching out his hand towards his disciples he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven, that is my brother and sister and mother."

Matthew 12:46-50

According to author Paul Hill, the butterfly represents human potential and, concomitantly, greater control over one’s survival. The caterpillar has a more hazardous existence because it has greater limits on its vision and less advantageous points of reference. Vision is critical for movement. The enhanced vision illumines increased perspectives on life problems.

For African Americans there has always been the paradox of trying to sing the Lord’s song in a strange, problematic land. When Richard Allen and Absalom were pulled from their knees while praying, they marched out of St. George Methodist Church in Philadelphia. This white church had implemented policies that made clear their disdain for these Black members who had helped build the church. When they marched out of St. George in what Lerone Bennett called the nation’s first nonviolent protest march, they were shedding the environmental skins that kept them from metamorphosizing into the new people they were called and needed to be for the new time at hand, for what was awaiting them that demanded a proboscis for the spring time that was dawning. Forming the Free African Society committed to addressing the needs of women and orphans, they made great strides toward the freedom embedded in their metamorphosis that eventually led to the establishment of the most powerful instrument of liberation for Black people, the Black Church.

The phenomenon of walking out, shaking the dust from their shoes and moving on, recognizing the compromises and deception in which they had participated, unlocked creativity and transformation beyond anything that had existed for them. They were celebrating the fullness of their lives.

They were free, not merely because they were not slaves. They were free because life is free. When anyone goes on a hike, listens to the sounds of the forest, or invokes a prayer, the inspiration comes not from the outside but what is already within. The within resonates with the without. The sound of music is within. We are inspired, stirred, animated, transcended because the without has drawn the within to it. The full moon is alluring because it is already within our inward parts and the inner and outer are connecting causing awe. The within and without are one.

Metamorphosis is experience within the Dao, life’s substance and sustenance.

Robert Kennedy experienced metamorphosis from a shrewd political tactician to one who was hearing the subjugated voices of exploited farm workers, the Black community, and the anti-war cries emanating both at home and abroad. Transformed people while admired by some can be despised by others. Transformed people are not necessarily people with longevity of life. Like the butterfly who does not live long.

Organizational consultant Stephen R. Covey has a great deal to say to our current situation. He quotes John Gardner, “Most ailing organizations have developed a functional blindness to their own defects. They are not suffering because they cannot solve their problems, but because they cannot see their problems.” Einstein warned, The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”

This is critical for me. As a nation, we often try to solve the tremendous problems facing us with methods of the past that failed then and fail now. Victor Hugo says through the voice of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables: We often deny by our way of attaining the goal the meaning of the goal. We strive for an ideal tomorrow by borrowing as the process of attaining it from the falsehoods of yesterday. We do not put our faith in the irresistible and incorruptible strength of our principles until we have made ourselves secure on the world’s past falsehoods.

I often feel that we are afraid of metamorphosis, of becoming new creatures that the world needs. We have seen what has happened to many who experienced metamorphosis: loss of employment, bombing of homes, ostracism, even death. Metamorphosis can be frightening for us as human beings. It can have severe consequences. Still, it must continue and continue as an ongoing process.

Covey continues:

These statements underscore one of the most profound learnings of my life – if you want to make minor, incremental changes, and improvements, work on practices, behavior, or attitude. But if you want to make significant, quantum improvement, work on paradigms. The word paradigm stems from the Greek word paradeigma, originally a scientific term but commonly used today to mean a perception, assumption, theory, frame of reference, or lens through which you view the world. It is like a map of a territory or city. If your map is inaccurate, it will make no difference how hard you try to find your destination or how positively you think—you’ll stay lost. If it’s accurate, then diligence and attitude matter. But not until then.

Returning to our winged relative, Schreiner wrote that one day the little butterfly sat on a rose and died there. His death she said was not from drinking too much nectar but from a broken heart. There is a profound sense of loneliness when one transforms and other around them with the inherent ability to do likewise refuse to do so.

But I must journey on, to-day, to-morrow, and the next day; it would never do for a prophet to perish except in Jerusalem!

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, slaying the prophets and stoning those who have been sent to you! How often I would fain have gathered your children as a fowl gathers her brood under her wings! But you would not have it!

Luke 13:33-34

The butterfly counts not months but moments and has time enough. – Tagore

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