The Butterfly Dance
by Barbara Crafton
Monarch butterfly hovers over the purple plumes of a Buddleia's flowers and settles down for a snack. There are more Monarchs this year than last year, which is good to see, as there was a year or two there when they seemed almost to have disappeared.
There's always at least one butterfly on that bush -- which is why its nickname is "butterfly bush." Sometimes someone glamorous, like the Monarch or a Viceroy, or a wonderful stained-glass-looking fellow whose name I don't even know. But more often, it is one or more of the common little plain white ones you see everywhere in the summer -- not more than an inch across. I rarely go out there without
seeing at least one of those guys.
The butterflies sit on the flowers for a long time. Their wings begin to pulse as they drink, a pulse with each sip -- they put their whole tiny bodies into the task of feeding.
When I was little, I went through a spate of butterfly collecting. I would mount them on a board, with pins through their bodies and their wings, and frame the boards. Once I found a luna moth -- already dead -- its pale green wings easily seven inches across. The butterflies were lovely in their frames. But I
hung them on a wall, which I shouldn't have done, and the delicate tissues of the wings failed, after a time, to support even the minute weight of their bodies. Gravity dragged the dead butterflies off their pins, and I would find a pile of butterfly dust at the bottom of the frame.
Besides. They were dead butterflies. They no longer flew, no longer fluttered over flowers, didn't drink, never again. I stopped collecting them and became content just to see them.
We think of them as delicate, which they are. Our touch on their wings hurts them - their wings are covered with tiny colored scales, and a finger rubs off the scales and injures the wing's ability to lift them in flight. Delicate they are, but most people don't know that butterflies are also very territorial. Often you see two butterflies together, fluttering around each other in the air. You may stop and look, charmed by the sight: it looks like a dance, or a game.
It's no game. They're not dancing. They're fighting. A butterfly will chase a competitor out of his yard with every ounce of energy he has. They won't leave one another alone until one of them is gone. He'll even chase you, if you get too close: we mist up when a butterfly comes close to us, feel the power of the
Holy Spirit in his presence. We even think of someone we love who has died -- a butterfly appears while we are feeling the absence of the one we love, and it seems to us like a message of love from the next world. Perhaps. But what the butterfly is doing is chasing us away. This is my place, he says. Beat it.
Ah. Nature punctures our romanticism from time to time, which is a fine thing: we would become so sentimental there'd be no living with us. Its prosaic instinct for survival and growth grounds everything. We are in the image of God, but God places us here, in the dirt. Made us animals, too, like the warring butterflies, tied to the earth in a thousand ways. Animals who carry within us the image of our Creator. Not as sweet as we sometimes look, and yet beloved of the One who has given us life.
Copyright © 2003 Barbara Crafton