I was raised on the butterfly metaphor.  From kids’ books to Easter symbols.  I’ve preached it.  I watched it unfold in grade school terrariums.  And I’ve used it as spiritual practice. 

Of course I had a unique idea taught to me by the culture in which I was raised.  The ground bound caterpillar enters its cocoon and emerges with wings.  

I had always pictured the cocoon as a kind of safe haven imagery.  You get wrapped up in a safe warm protective blanket until you magically sprout wings.  Somehow in that metaphor I missed something.  Its goo.

Even with my college career in Wildlife Management and natural sciences, where I learned to identify every insect in New England and beyond, I still missed the goo. 

You see, in that cocoon the caterpillar is not resting – safe, secure and comfortable -- waiting for wings to sprout.  It's liquifying.  Enzymes within the caterpillar work on the tissue.  It turns into a soupy goo of organic material and DNA.  From that soup the new cells and tissue of a butterfly coalesce.  Goo; you can’t become a butterfly without it. 

In every era the church, like the human soul, is called into this transformation.  It is deeply embedded in our scripture tradition from gooey wilderness wanderings, to catacombs.  And for the last several decades we’ve been called into that wilderness as a reformation of the church is underway.  This current Covid and Racial Justice moment amplifies and intensifies it.  It has thrust us into a ZOOM, YouTube, Facebook cocoon.  I’ve spent decades in the world of church growth and evangelism studies.  I’ve read, attended workshops, researched, experimented, taught and paid attention.  Too often the church has tried to put wings on the caterpillar.  “If we just find the right formula for church growth we’ll be able to get more people in the pews and pledges in the plate.”  We’ve tried it with bands, guitars, and projectors in worship. We’ve tried it with slick websites and Facebook pages and new member attraction strategies.  Good stuff, wrong reasons. 

We’ve tried to avoid the goo. 

That’s pretty human.  Most of us want to find the quickest and least challenging way to get beyond our pain and grief and addictions.  The work entailed in authentic transformation is exhausting and challenging, and we are already pretty weary.  Its been a very long 5 months.  Don’t talk to me about goo. 

But you can’t glue wings onto a caterpillar.  You can’t even rush a butterfly emerging from a cocoon to slowly spread and dry its wings in the air that will soon bear it up. 

At the risk of being completely theologically simplistic, I believe God likes goo. 

Goo is the place where we fully surrender what we have been and what we long to return to in order to let God bring forth a new creation from what is essential.  It is a fundamental concept in human growth and spiritual formation: detachment, surrender, “Thy will be done”, “Let Go and Let God”.  Its not east work.  Covid has confronted us with a different reality that gives us an opportunity to let go of what was and let God reveal what is essential to being the Body of Christ.  This movement towards racial justice calls us to look honestly:  brutally honestly at the honest brutality of the privileged world that has shaped our lives and the cost it has inflicted on too many for too long.  Its not easy work.  But it is God work. 

As we phase into a post pandemic world, as we strive to emerge from the deadly racist systems that bind us, we can not escape the goo phase, unless we want to remain caterpillars.  And we have a God who gives us a choice.  Some will choose caterpillar.  They are going to want to get back to church life like it was last January.  They see the good things, the familiar things, about being a caterpillar.  And they may not yet have the energy or capacity to face the cocoon.  Some had already begun moving into or towards butterfly life: perhaps just spreading their wings or soaring on breezes.  Most of us still have to face the goo.  And this is an extraordinary moment, a rare opportunity, to do just that. God will love you in all your choices.  But God’s Spirit is always moving most deeply in the goo.  (Did you notice that, I wrote “goo’ not ‘butterfly’.  This is where the metaphor breaks down.  God is not likely to let you remain a butterfly…there is always another cocoon’s worth of goo ahead of you). 

This is not about strategy or methodology, it is about essential spirituality.  Its soul work, not brain work, not even heart work. 

So, to goo or not to goo, that is the question. 

Photo by Bankim Desai on Unsplash


Don H. Remick

Don Remick is Bridge Conference Minister.

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