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Posted: October 8, 2010 12:00 a.m.

About Faith: Butterflies and ants

I recently read an article about a European butterfly known as the Large Blue. Its beautiful iridescent wings would make it a striking addition to any collection. But I was disturbed by an unusual feature of its life cycle that I found on Wikipedia:

"Large Blue caterpillars feed on wild thyme or marjoram flowers for the first few days of development. Once well fed, the caterpillar secretes sweet fluids to attract red ants… The ants then take the caterpillar back to their nest and proceed to feed from these secretions... On emerging from hibernation, the caterpillars will then begin to eat the red ant’s eggs and larvae for up to three weeks. It will then hang itself by its legs on the nest’s roof and build a chrysalis around itself. The caterpillar will spend a further three weeks transforming into the Large Blue butterfly adult."

As I shifted my thinking from the butterfly to the ant, it struck me. "Wait a minute. Did I read that correctly? The ant brings this visitor home, and lets the caterpillar eat its eggs? What kind of creature would sacrifice its children for the sake of something sweet?"

The human kind, I am afraid. The symbiotic relationship between caterpillar and ant makes sense in nature. But the same behavior in humans is a tragic symptom of the times in which we live. Too many adults are attracted to the sweet things of this world and bring them into the home to the detriment of their children.

A woman once came to me wanting to turn her life around. "I’ve had a great life," she smiled. "At least I thought it was great. We have wonderful parties every weekend. My friends are so much fun to be around."

Her expression grew somber. "But the other day, I watched my two little girls as they were playing ‘grown-up.’ They were pretending to be drunk. They used language that embarrassed me. They were dancing with each other lewdly. It made me sick. I want to change, but I don’t know how."

I am convinced there is a spark of God’s love in each of us that makes us sick when we realize how far we have strayed from him. This sense of sickness is actually a wonderful gift. Without it, we would be content to wallow in the darkness we have created for ourselves. With it, we are prompted to look for another way. In that searching we return to God.

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:2).

God’s invitation to transformation is ongoing and ever-present. Eventually, the Large Blue butterfly emerges from the ant nest as an adult, and flutters off into the sun. We often admire the butterfly as a metaphor for transformation and rebirth, and this is no exception. I am especially drawn to the image of a beautiful blue butterfly emerging from, of all places, an ant hill. The good news for our time is that we can be less like the ant and more like the butterfly. We can be born again and emerge from the unsavory circumstances in which we find ourselves. We can awaken from our slumber, see wings, and say, "What am I doing here? I do not belong among ants!"

Let the transformation begin.

The Rev. Brian Dale is the pastor of Allen Memorial Methodist Church in Oxford.

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