Sacraments of beauty’s protest

Earlier this week I made time to shabbat, to “cease” my non-stop life and attend to the immediate, the present, the here and now, in order to look at all God has made and say with Him, “Very good.”

After watching the sunrise with a stiff east wind caressing my face, and driving my daughters to play practice, I went to a local bookstore to read one of my favorite books.

For 2 hours.

20,000 different species of butterfly. Flowers in flight refracting divine de-light.

For me they have always been sacraments of beauty’s protest, gracefully yielding against the unyielding, rebellious, predatory designs of as-yet unredeemed nature. Icons of the glory to be revealed, per Romans 8:18-30. They transform from caterpillars who steal and destroy to live, into butterflies who feed only on what is freely offered to them and, by pollinating, give back the gift of new life.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed [metamorphoumetha] into his likeness from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18)

I remember as a child watching a blue jay eat a still-fluttering sulphur butterfly on the sidewalk, swallowing the body and leaving on the ground two perfect yellow wings. Lifeless beauty laid on a concrete sepulcher. I recall being profoundly sad, but only sitting still, as if waiting for something unexpected to happen. Beneath the crush of violence, beauty still gently smiled. How could God not act? I sat and looked, wondering if there would be a heaven for butterflies. There to live again, soaring their immortal protest.

To God they soar, I’m certain of it, as “He will not refuse one who is so blithe to go to him.”

When I am discouraged, weary, disheartened, disillusioned, I pull out my book and remember: Butterflies are. Like the Seraphim, existing there only to sing with colors the splendor of divine Beauty.

After I left the bookstore, I went to visit the levee. They were everywhere, dancing in the sky under the brilliant sun, skipping from flower to flower. And I remembered my mom reading to me Trina Paulus’ Hope for the Flowers when I was small. If you recall, the caterpillar exclaimed with hope,

“We can fly!
We can become butterflies!
There’s nothing at the top
and it doesn’t matter!”
As he heard his own
message he realized how
he had misread the instinct
to get high.
To get to the “top” he
must fly, not climb.

I flew in praise! Praise, that most ‘useless’ of prayers, without a ‘why’ other than to declare Beauty’s endangered appearing. Thank you, O God, for deeming the risk worthwhile, for us and for our salvation.

Glory to Thee, bringing from the depth of the earth an endless variety of colors, tastes and scents
Glory to Thee for the warmth and tenderness of the world of nature
Glory to Thee for the numberless creatures around us
Glory to Thee for the depths of Thy wisdom, the whole world a living sign of it
Glory to Thee; on my knees, I kiss the traces of Thine unseen hand
Glory to Thee, enlightening us with the clearness of eternal life
Glory to Thee for the hope of the unutterable, imperishable beauty of immortality
Glory to Thee, O God, from age to age   — Glory to God for All Things

7 comments on “Sacraments of beauty’s protest

  1. Jennifer says:

    We visited the butterfly exhibit at the Smithsonian Natural History museum last week. The idea is you enter this greenhouse-type structure (i thought it looked like some kind of space pod or biodome); spend 15 minutes walking through and go out the other end. Instead it was a time machine. Every adult was transported back to childhood: giggling, oohing and aahing as butterlflies alit on their backpacks, pantlegs, heads. One very serious looking, British fellow sported a butterfly on his cap for most of the time and soon became the subject of many camera phone pictures. Chrysalises are flown in weekly from parts south and the butterflies emerge at the museum. It was magical.

    I am so happy for you that you took the time to shabbat. God bless you and keep you in this very busy time. You are in my prayers.

  2. Trina Paulus says:

    What a magnificent expression of this miracle!
    This summer I found about 300 eggs on my and neighbors’ milkweed and brought them inside to raise and release. This mystery is such a privilege to share all over Montclair. This last group is now on their way to southern Mexico, Michoacan. They arrive around November 1, All Saints, and All Hallow’s Eve, or Day of the Dead in Mexico. They wait out the winter and in early spring, mate and have the first 28 day generation of 2018 eating Texas milkweed before their children or grandchildren gradually make their way back to New Jersey.

    Thank you also for such a lovely reference to my book, Hope For the Flowers. Hope is 45 this year and still seems relevant.
    So glad to get your “Neal Obstat” affirmation! I first thought this was just someone who did not know the Latin until I saw your name. What fun! I never had to get a Nihil Obstat for Hope though it is quite theological!

    • Wow! This is a supreme honor. I loved loved your book as a child. It shaped my imagination with a vivid hope that is unique to your graceful vision of the world — theological (!) as you say! Thank you for making time to comment on this post, and for entering my world in person. And making me laugh about Latin. I have no idea how it came to your attention, but I am grateful. May God bless you and your work that brings to an increasingly hopeless world your hope for the flowers. God bless you and your loved ones. Tom Neal

  3. MB says:

    …and To think I was going to quickly post the link to this book, before seeing the author herself post!

    My older sister was living in Loveland, Ohio in the 70’s when her letters home began to speak incessantly about this author who was living and working alongside her and others. She was writing a book about butterflies!
    Once published the book became a common sight both in our home and
    my Catholic grade school.
    I am so happy to see that it’s still published and celebrated after …nearly 40 years? I have given it is a gift many times.

    Thank you , Tom. And thank you Trina!

  4. Jennifer says:

    I have never heard of this book, but must read it now. So exciting to see two lovers of wonder meet here today! Hope to see you around this comment section more often, Trina Paulus!!

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