Beyond the Edge of Knowledge: An Ecological Hope for Lent

Sarah Champlin
The Monarch Butterfly
Monday, March 4, 2024

“Every single creature is full of God
and is a book about God.
Every creature is a word of God.
If I spend enough time with the tiniest creature,
even a caterpillar,
I would never have to prepare a sermon.
So full of God is every creature.”
Meister Eckhart

monarch butterfly

There’s something sacred about spotting a butterfly. When it happens, I’m often in the middle of some other outdoor activity—taking a walk or weeding the garden. Each sighting inspires a drop-what-you’re-doing-and-look kind of awe. The task at hand falls away, and for a moment I’m only concerned with two things: watching the butterfly flap its colorful wings, and making sure everyone in the surrounding area knows about this momentous event. Spotting a flying butterfly is good, a butterfly drinking nectar from a flower is even better, and a butterfly that chooses you as its momentary landing spot—is there any purer joy? I often think of joy as loud and exuberant, but butterfly joy is something different. It’s quiet to match the gentleness of this delicate friend, and reverent, and deep. It bubbles within, all-consuming for a moment, until a breeze picks up and carries the creature away. Butterfly joy marks a moment in an otherwise ordinary day where I am struck silly by the miracle it is to be alive in God’s world.

What a deflating surprise it was to learn that 90% of monarch butterflies have been wiped off the planet, due in large part to the introduction of the herbicide glyphosate (a.k.a. Roundup weed killer) that kills the plants they need to survive. Spreading glyphosate is common practice on agricultural land where crops like corn and soybeans have been genetically modified to withstand the herbicide, while every other living thing around them is decimated. Since monarchs will only lay their eggs on the milkweed plant, the death of the milkweed directly predicts the death of the butterfly.

Not only are these butterflies’ sources of joy for us, they are also helpful pollinators that are necessary for the flourishing of all life: agricultural crops and otherwise. Eliminating them would cause (pardon the pun) a “butterfly effect” that ripples out in wider and wider circles. First go the butterflies, then the unpollinated plants, then the unfed animals, and then…?

Yet the death-dealing impacts of harmful herbicides need not be the end of this story. With God death never has the final word. Making space for the resurrecting hope of Christ in our lives paves the way for a new butterfly effect. The Spirit is “a mighty wind sweeping over the waters,” (Genesis 1:2) so each small act of goodness that we do sends ripples of this life-giving energy out into the world. As Hildegard von Bingen said, “Thus am I, a feather on the breath of God.” If even the smallest and most delicate of creatures can have such an outsized influence on the fate of our world, then so can we. May each banana peel we compost and each milkweed seed we plant be an offering to our God who makes all things new. May we do these things with butterfly joy, quietly reveling in the miracle it is to be alive, carrying within us the hope of a more beautiful world.

God of the monarch butterfly,
Cultivate within us a spirit of joy,
As we set out to do our daily tasks.
May each of our small actions send out ripples of your love,
May we be feathers on your breath.

Here are some ideas of small actions to inspire holy butterfly effects from Kenilworth Union youth and adults:

Plant more pollinating flowers, Julia P.

Use hand-me-downs, Harrison L.

Take plastic wrap and bags to grocery stores for recycling, Rob D.

March 4, 2024

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