Creation of the Butterflies

When the Great Spirit watched his creation, he became sad at the thought that someday all the children would grow old and die. He knew they would be like the flowers of the field and would bloom for only a while before losing their beauty and wilting. Still, it was autumn, and all the colors of the trees and the fields gave the Great Spirit an idea.

“I will create something beautiful for the children,” he said.

And so the Great Spirit gathered the colors together. He took gold from the sunlight, blue from the sky, white from the cornmeal, gray from the shadows of the running children, green from the leaves of summer, yellow from the leaves of autumn, black from a girl's long hair, and red, purple, and orange he found in the petals of the flowers in the field. The Great Spirit mixed these together in his bag, along with a few songs that he had gleaned from the birds.

The Great Spirit then walked to a meadow, placed his bag on the ground and said, “Come, children. Come and open the bag. I have a present for you.”

The children ran to the bag, opened it, and thousands of bright, beautiful butterflies fluttered into the sky. The children were so happy, seeing such beauty. Suddenly the butterflies began to sing, and the children sang with them. All the songs of laughter filled the air and the world was a happy place.

Just then a songbird flew by and lighted on the Great Spirit's shoulder. The bird whispered in the Great Spirit's ear: “It isn't right that you have taken our songs and given them to these new creatures. After all, they are lovelier than we are. Isn't it only right that the songs belong to us?”

The Great Spirit thought about this and then agreed with the songbird. “It is only right that the songs belong to you,” he said.

And so the Great Spirit took the songs back and gave them to the birds. That is why they sing. But of the butterflies the Great Spirit said, “Look at these. For they are beautiful just as they are.”

This version of this beautiful Native American story was found in Todd Outcalt's wonderful collection of parables: “Candles In The Dark.” I couldn't possibly improve on his prose, so I kept his wording of the story. God in His wisdom has given us all unique gifts. Beauty for the butterflies and songs for the birds. We are created to bring joy to one another and to bring praise to our creator. There may be times when we are jealous of another person's gifts. We do well to remember that our creator has given us our gifts for a purpose and that we are, in the words of the Psalmist, “fearfully and wonderfully made!”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

 

The Child’s Drawing

There was a kindergarten teacher who made a habit of giving her class free time to draw. She felt this encouraged her students to use their imaginations. She made a practice of going around the room and asking the kids about what they were working on. On this particular day, one of her students had a very serious expression on her face as she drew. The teacher could tell she was drawing something that meant a lot to her. When she came around to the little girl's table, she asked her what she was drawing.

The little girl looked up, smiling, and said, “I'm drawing God!”

The teacher was a little surprised. “No one knows what God looks like…”, she reminded the little girl.

The girl, not looking up from her intense art session, replied, “That's because I'm not finished yet.”

Of course God is unseen. He is bigger than our human categories. How do we present a picture of this God to others? For Jesus, the answer had to do with the way we live our lives. Christ lived his life in such a way that the character and nature of God was unmistakable and he challenged his disciples to do the same. “Be therefore perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect…” Being made in God's image gives us the responsibility of bearing that image to others. As disciples, we are called to live in such a way that people come to see God in us that through the power of the Spirit we are conformed more and more into the likeness of Christ each day. You may think that impossible but I, for one, am not finished yet.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

The Water Bearer

Once there was a water bearer whose task it was every day to go up and down the hill from the master’s house to the river where he would retrieve water to supply the entire home. He did this each day in the traditional method. He had a large pole he carried on his shoulders with a clay pot hanging from each end. Every morning he cheerfully went out and made several trips to the river to gather water singing all the way.

“Some of us are beautiful,

Some of us are strong,

All of us are wonderful,

All of us belong!”

He loved his job so much that when he was done fetching the day’s supply of water, he would go back out and gather flowers from along the path which he would then take back to his master’s house and set in vases. Singing all the while:

“Some of us are beautiful,

Some of us are strong,

All of us are wonderful,

All of us belong!”

As much as the water bearer loved these daily trips, his pots loved them even more! Clay pots are never happier than when they are being used so the fact that they got to be filled and then poured out several times a day made them so happy. Most days they would smile (yes, pots can smile) and they would sing along (of course pots can sing) the whole trip up and down the hill to the river and back:

“Some of us are beautiful,

Some of us are strong,

All of us are wonderful,

All of us belong!”

There was one problem though. One of the pots was cracked. The cracked pot when filled would steadily drip water all along the path. This eventually made the cracked pot very sad. He would notice how as they travelled along the path, the water bearer had to work extra hard to balance the pots because one of the pots was heavier than the others. He also noticed that the water bearer had to take a lot more trips than he would if he had two whole pots. One afternoon, as they were making their daily trip, the whole pot began to tease the cracked pot. It bragged about how much water it could hold and told him that nobody wanted a useless leaky pot. Later, when the water bearer began to fill the cracked pot, he noticed that the cracked pot was very sad. Good water bearers are in tune with emotions of their pots.

“What is the matter?”, the water bearer asked.

“I’m useless,” said the cracked pot. “I used to love making these trips every day but now I just hate them because I know I’m letting you down. I drip water constantly and I make your job twice as hard. Why don’t you just get a new pot and you can fill me with flour or something.”

“You know what would cheer you up…”, said the water bearer, “When we walk up and down the hill to the master’s house, why don’t you admire all the pretty flowers!”

The cracked pot did as he was told and the whole journey home he admired the flowers. They really were beautiful. There were roses, tulips, daisies, morning glories, violets, any flower you could think of. There were big flowers and small flowers, and they were all different colors and each one smelled prettier than the last. The cracked pot gazed at these flowers and smiled and thought of nothing else the whole time the water bearer journeyed back, singing:

“Some of us are beautiful,

Some of us are strong,

All of us are wonderful,

All of us belong!”

But when they finally got back the cracked pot was sad once again. When the water bearer poured the cracked pot out, he noticed that he was still sad.

“Why are you still sad, friend. Didn’t you look at the flowers like I told you to?”

“Yes I did,” said the cracked pot, “and they were very beautiful. I almost forgot about my sadness but when we got back and you poured me out and I saw how much water my companion poured and how little I had, I was reminded of my crack and how I daily disappoint you and I was sad again”

The water bearer smiled. “Did you not notice when you were watching the flowers how they only grow on one side of the road? I knew you had a crack. That’s why I chose you. Every day, you’ve been watering the flowers along the side of the path with each drip that falls out of your cracked clay. All those beautiful flowers are there because of you.”

The cracked pot suddenly realized how important he was. He was filled with a joy that never left him. Now everyday he was once again excited to go out on his daily journey and each time he dripped water on the path he would give thanks for his imperfection that brought such amazing life into the world and he would gladly sing the whole way:

“Some of us are beautiful,

Some of us are strong,

All of us are wonderful,

All of us belong!”

This is my elaborated version of an old parable from India. Sometimes it is our very imperfections that God can use to bring beauty into the world. We often are sad because we feel we cannot contribute the things that others can, and we miss out on what God has in store for us. As disciples, we also see in this parable the great Christian paradox that brokenness brings wholeness. It is through our wounds that God can use us to bring healing to others. We are called to stop comparing ourselves to the people around us and to begin looking for the ways God is already at work in us. For we are, as the Psalmist declares, “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Face of God

Rabbi Joshua Ben Hananiah had a peculiar relationship with the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Rabbi Joshua would often go to Hadrian's court to advocate for the rights of his people against oppressive policies. Hadrian was not used to being talked to quite so boldly but he tolerated it. In fact, he enjoyed these visits because he liked to make sport of trying to stump the Rabbi with questions about his religion. Occasionally, Hadrian called Rabbi Joshua to his court for the sole purpose of questioning him.

One such day, Hadrian summoned Rabbi Joshua to his court. There in the room he had three statues depicting the Roman gods. He said to Rabbi Joshua, “These are the statues of but a few of our gods. We have many more. Look at their faces! This one, Venus, has a beautiful face that her devotees worship out of love. This one, Mars, has a terrible face that his devotees worship out of fear. And this one, Jupiter, has a regal face that his devotees worship out of respect. The face of a god tells its worshipers who it is. Tell me… what is the face of your god like?”

Rabbi Joshua dutifully responded, “The Torah teaches that no one can see the face of The Lord and yet live. We Jews worship the unseen God.”

Hadrian laughed. “How can you worship a god whose face you cannot even see?”

“Follow me,” said Rabbi Joshua, “and I will give you an answer.”

So the Emperor, enjoying having fun at the Rabbi's expense, obliged him and followed him out into the courtyard. It was a hot summer day and the sun was shining very brightly. Rabbi Joshua said to him, “If you want to see the face of God, you must stare directly into the sun.”

Hadrian's mood suddenly changed. “You fool,” he shouted, “You know very well I cannot look directly into the sun! Do you scheme to make your emperor blind?”

“Of course you cannot stare into the sun,” said Rabbi Joshua calmly, “but the sun is only a servant of our God. If you cannot behold the splendor of one of His servants, how could you possibly hope to gaze upon the face of God?”

Hadrian was speechless. He had once again been outwitted. Without a word, Rabbi Joshua departed to go back to his people and join them in their worship of an unseen God.

There is a whole tradition of Jewish parables that involve Romans questioning the Rabbis about their faith only to be outwitted in the end. The stories reflect the very real skepticism that the Romans had about monotheism and the extent to which Jews (and Christians) constantly had to defend themselves from mischaracterizations about what they believed. It was in this context of suspicion that the writer of 1 Peter told followers to “always be ready to defend your confidence in God.” Modern disciples live in an increasingly suspicious and skeptical world. Some people make sport of trying to make religious people look silly. While God does not call us to be trolls ourselves, we are called to be ready to defend, with patience and humility, our confidence in the unseen God.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

The Third Day of Creation

On the third day of creation, as God was adding the last finishing touches on the trees, giving them sap, leaves, bark, and seed, He noticed something very troubling. The great cedars of Lebanon were towering high above the other trees. They seemed to God to be almost arrogant. God worried that there would soon be competition among the trees and that they might begin to despise one another and threaten His perfect creation. So God in His infinite wisdom decided to create iron. The trees immediately understood that iron would have the power to destroy them so they began to weep.

They cried out to God, “O King of Heaven why have you done this to us? Surely each one of us is destined to be felled by the axe!”

God replied, “The axe is nothing without the wooden handle to lift it! Go, therefore, and live in peace with one another. Stay united and refuse to betray each other and iron will be powerless against you!”

This beautiful midrash tells us far more about human nature than it does about the politics of trees. Unity is a very fragile thing. It only takes a single tree to lend its branch and an entire forest can be felled. For peace to be lasting, each side must trust the others for the limb that is given up to hurt an enemy threatens every tree. Jesus calls his disciples to be peacemakers. This means living in a posture of humility and forgiveness. We may know some trees that really deserve to be chopped down but let us not forget who it is that created this forest. 

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

When I Heard The Learn’d Astronomer

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns

before me;

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add,

divide, and measure them;

When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he

lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;

Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

This classic poem by Walt Whitman is a profound reminder that knowledge of something and the experience of it are two very different things. It is indeed one thing to listen to lectures about the stars, it is another entirely to look up at them in wordless wonder. All description of God pales in comparison to the experience of God. Our theology and our arguments may be met with much applause in the lecture room, but if we are not connecting people to the presence of the living God, chances are they may leave our church tired and sick.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

 

 

A Miraculous Man

A famous Sufi sage was approached by one of his disciples who told him, “I know a man who is so miraculous he can walk on water!”

“Big deal,” the sage replied with a yawn, “frogs and mosquitoes walk on water all the time.”

The disciple, eager to impress his sage, said, “I have also met a miraculous man who can fly!”

“So what?” said the sage, “do not birds and butterflies fly regularly and with ease?”

The student, sure he was on his way to impressing the sage, replied, “I have also heard of a man so miraculous he can disappear in one town and reappear, moments later, in another.”

“Yes,” replied the sage, “but so can Satan. All the powers you've mentioned are useless. A truly miraculous man is one who loves his fellow human beings while remembering God in all things.”

As disciples we are called to love God and love others. This is much easier said than done. In fact, many times it seems impossible. The sage was right. To manage this is the truest miracle. The apostle Paul felt that without the miracle of loving God and others, all other miracles were useless. That's why he told the church in Corinth, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

Calvin’s Dilemma…

In this classic Bill Waterson strip, Calvin is certainly on to something. If God turns out to be a big chicken, his dinner choices could indeed prove to be consequential in the afterlife. The way one imagines the divine is profoundly important. Were we to die and discover God was not the old bearded Caucasian male depicted on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, would we have a harder time defending our actions? Would our choices be harder to defend to a minority God, a third world God, or a female God? The truth, is that God is beyond human (or poultry) categories. God is just God. He cannot be limited to the value systems of a single tribe. He is the God of all creation and all human beings our created in his image. Perhaps this is why the God of the Bible is so adamant about not being depicted at all. When asked to describe himself, God simply says… “I Am!”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

The Bow Committee

Before the waters of the great flood receded, while Noah was still on the ark, God met in heaven with eight of His most artistic angels. God opened the meeting by proclaiming in a voice that sounded deep like thunder, majestic like rushing waters, and beautiful like a trumpet: “In just a short time, my servant Noah will leave the ark I have commanded him to build and I will command him to repopulate the earth. At that time, I will set my bow in the heavens as a sign that I will never again flood the earth. I want the eight of you Angels to begin working on the design of the bow so that it will be a powerful reminder of my presence.”

With that, God vanished and the newly formed bow committee set to work. They were all in agreement that the bow should be large enough to be seen from miles away and that it should be made of pure light (angels are quite fond of pure light). The only real sticking point was the color.

The first angel argued that the bow ought to be red, saying, “Red would remind humanity of God’s fierce anger and of the blood sacrifice that must be made to atone for sin. They must be reminded that God is a consuming fire, holy and without equal… a fierce warrior on the side of His people!”

The second angel argued for a different color saying, “Is not our Lord rare and sweet like an exotic fruit? Perhaps the color orange would remind humanity that God is the true source of pleasure and joy in life, and the only thing worth seeking. What better message could there be than an orange bow in the sky?”

The third angel argued for yellow, reminding his fellows that “God is a friend to humanity who radiates love like the sun radiates light. Surely the color of the sun would remind the people that God is faithful and steadfast- as dependable as that great light that governed the day!”

The fourth angel argued for the color green, saying, “Is our Master not also the creator? The God of all creation? Surely a green bow would remind humanity that our God created the earth and continues to be the source of all life!”

“Yes,” said the fifth angel, “But it is also important to emphasize God’s compassion! Does He not grieve with humanity? The color blue would remind people that God is present in their suffering… that He hears the cry of the afflicted, and draws near to the broken hearted.”

The sixth angel argued for indigo, that mysterious color halfway between blue and violet, pointing out that, “God, too, is mysterious and elusive- His ways are not fathomable to humanity. An indigo bow would inspire humanity to contemplate the deep spiritual truths of God.”

The seventh angel cried out, “You fools, you’ve forgotten the most important thing about God: that He is King. Violet would remind humanity of God’s royal rule over them and His sovereignty over all creation, for heaven is His throne and the Earth is His footstool.”

All while this debate was going on, the eighth angel sat quietly, not contributing to the conversation. Finally, the angels looked to him to break the tie. “You have been quiet,” said one of the angels, “Which among us do you feel has the better argument?”

The angel was silent for a moment more and then spoke with great sureness and wisdom: “It seems to me that God is all of the things you describe and much more… Would not a bow made of all these colors show humanity that their God must be truly great to be seen in so many beautiful ways?”

It was then that the argument was ended and the final design for the rainbow was agreed upon.

This is a midrash of my own creation. Often, like these angels, we stubbornly cling to our vision of God as the only right way of seeing… We become upset when people try to paint God a different color by emphasizing a quality we see as peripheral to God’s nature. Many times our vision of God says far more about us than it says about God. If God is God, then He is beyond any one person’s comprehension. He must indeed be truly great to be seen in so many beautiful ways.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

St. Bede’s Sparrow

During the 7th century, King Edwin of Northumbria was trying to decide, after hearing the teaching of the missionary Paulonius, whether to allow Christians to preach in his Kingdom and whether to convert to Christianity himself. He consulted some of his advisers, the final of which gave him this sage advice:

“The present life of man upon earth, O King, seems to me in

comparison with that time which is unknown to us like the

swift flight of a sparrow through mead-hall where you sit

at supper in winter, with your Ealdormen and thanes,

while the fire blazes in the midst and the hall is warmed,

but the wintry storms of rain or snow are raging abroad.

The sparrow, flying in at one door and immediately out

at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry

tempest, but after a short space of fair weather, he im-

mediately vanishes out of your sight, passing from winter

to winter again. So this life of man appears for a

little while, but of what is to follow or what went before

we know nothing at all. If, therefore, this new doctrine

tells us something more certain, it seems

justly to be followed in our kingdom.”

The above quotation from “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People” by the Venerable Bede, is likely more legend than history. But what a powerful image of the fleeting nature of life. King Edwin’s adviser knew that this life is short and that what comes before and after is vast and mysterious. He also knew that some certainty could give life purpose and meaning. Even the Christian mourns the dead and trembles at the thought of losing his grip on life, yet we live lives anchored in hope that what we do here, in the short time we are here, matters. We have some glimpses of eternity from scripture but in the end we don’t know that much more than Edwin’s adviser. We only know in whom we have placed our trust, and that He will be with us in whatever awaits that vast world beyond.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…