Reflections for the inner life.
I have been listening (and re-listening) to a fascinating podcast episode on Radiolab called “Of Bombs and Butterflies”. Maybe it will be as meaningful to you as it has been for me.
This podcast episode is exposing the resilience (not the presumed fragility) of a butterfly species that was becoming extinct. Mind-blowing! It’s about fostering an environment that promotes the flourishing of the Saint Francis Satyr butterfly. But as you’ll discover, it is about way more than bombs or butterflies.
Researchers discovered that this butterfly species was going extinct so they invited experts and the sharpest minds to help rebuild a fruitful habitat for this butterfly population to recover. Their multiple failed attempts revealed that this species of butterfly actually flourishes in an environment that has been devastated and blown apart on a military bomb site. The devastation of dropped bombs on this military base actually helped create an environment that is rich in the nutrients and elements that promoted the sustainable return of this endangered species.
Why is this so important to consider? Suffering can prepare the soil of the soul for flourishing. If we adopt a binary approach to the experience of suffering, that is to say, suffering is only “bad”, then we may consequentially deny the gifts of our own devastation. Avoidance of suffering will result in the neglect and endangerment of our self and soul.
What are the gifts of devastation? For the Saint Francis Satyr butterfly, bombs, fire and beavers contributed in the cultivation of the perfect habitat. Trees, vines, and grasses that would normally take over that ecosystem were bombed, burned or beavered out. In the human experience, suffering does tear some things down and the breakdown of those things will feed the soil of our lives.
Everyone will encounter suffering. We do not necessarily need to go hunting for it but we also do not need to become numb to its presence either.
Suffering does not always insinuate catastrophic circumstances. For some, suffering can come in the form of something as common as aging. When our bodies begin to break down due to neglect or aging, we come face to face with painful realities. For others, it can be devastating to retire, even with a full 401K of retirement plan.
The feeling of no longer being needed in the same way can be awfully painful. Becoming empty nesters brings with the joy and pain of recalibrating when children live outside the family home. When kids go off to college, it can feel devastating to not have your son or daughter present to you in the same way you had once enjoyed.
There are also deeply catastrophic experiences that can level us. A medical diagnosis, company layoffs, death of a child, evidence of spousal infidelity, sexual trauma, exposure to war, abuse or abandonment as a child, to a house fire are just a handful of experiences that can leave us feeling bombed out and burned to the ground. Suffering is not what makes us go extinct rather it is preparing the soil for our soul’s flourishing.
In this podcast episode, the ecologist makes the comment that some butterflies had to die in order for the butterfly population to recover. Read that again. Some butterflies had to die in order for the butterfly population to recover. Death and resurrection. We all love resurrection but if I’m honest, I am not a huge fan of the dying part.
We are being invited to enter into the death and devastation with resurrection eyes.
Jesus enters into the human experience so vulnerably. He did not avoid the descent from heaven into the most vulnerable human form, a baby. He became known as a man acquainted with sorrow. He wept, as a baby learning to emotionally attach to his young mother and as adult being ripped away from all of his earthy attachments.
Jesus allows the full weight of his own devastation to hit him in the chest. In his prayer life, the night before his own death, he confesses that he “can not drink the cup.” His honesty in the anticipating his own devastation is striking. Well, he does drink the cup and he does enter into the worst of the worst. His death was absolutely devastating.
Jesus enters into his own devastation and he wants join you in yours.
ST. AUGUSTINE OFFICE