It seems that worries have been making banners and parading through my mind lately.
Take the monarch butterflies for instance. Those who know me know I am nuts about monarch butterflies. Around this time for the past 5 summers, I help run a monarch butterfly workshop for teachers with Monarch Teachers Network. I’m also the “butterfly lady” at school, bringing monarchs into the class at school for kids to see and learn from. It’s a cause that gives me joy and purpose.
Lately though, I have been worried to the point of obsession about the future of monarchs. Reports say that this summer, they are down 90% across North America. Their disappearance is not a sudden thing. Like many species in the world, climate change and the effects of drought, pesticides and habitat loss have put this beautiful insect at risk. As I understand it, the species is not yet officially threatened, but the phenomenon of migration is.
We’ve known these facts for a while, since scientists have been tracking a steady decline in overwintering numbers for many years now, but the monarch’s absence this summer has brought it home. I find myself worried, as many people are. I catch myself feeling angry at others who are abusing the planet until I remember that I am one of them! Sure, I recycle, compost and concern myself with environmental causes, but as I drink my Keurig coffee, drive my car and tap on my luxury computer, my “global footprint” is still larger than I realize. I am part of our North American lifestyle.
As I have observed this worry track through my brain lately, I have become aware of another one. After a spring with various health issues coming to the fore at work, I have been worried about the coming fall. I wonder about my vocation – am I still called to stay in this place? The other night I had my first back to school dream. These dreams have visited me regularly over the years, and I’m sure every teacher has them. The main plot is disaster – not getting to school on time, a lesson that is blocked from happening, an out of control class.
These worries point to a certain despondency I’ve had all my life. Van Morrison sings about it – “Underlying depression and it’s starting in my backyard”. These lyrics run through my mind, hinting with dark insistence that my worries are the bottom reality of my life.
Well, I’ve discovered yet again that it takes a village, or at least a community, to raise me from my thoughts. I was reminded of something running deeper than my worries when our community had some verses to consider for our upcoming Sunday meeting. In particular, one verse has stayed with me. “Everything is held together by Him.” Colossians 1:17.
Eldon is the guy in our community who uses his artistic talents in creating centerpieces to illustrate spiritual truths. He wasn’t sure how to illustrate this verse until he thought of a gyroscope. I have never seen one in action until I saw this video. It is a pretty mysterious instrument, but the shortest explanation I could understand was that it will always keep spinning in the same direction. It is one of the laws that Newton discovered.
Gyroscopes are used in many ways. For example, in an airplane, no matter which way an airplane tips, the gyroscope will keep spinning in the same direction, indicating to the pilot when things are askew. It’s the same force that makes the earth keep spinning (more or less) in the same direction.
We talked about how God acts much like this gyroscope. No matter which way our lives tip over with worries and other dark underlying tendencies, God holds us and keeps us level. It’s not that God can do this, rather, God does it. Everything is held together in God, like the verse says. Like those trust exercises everyone has done where you let yourself fall backwards to arms waiting to catch you, it’s all a matter of trust in something beyond ourselves. Or rather, Someone.
It was a good reminder when I thought of my worries over the effects of climate change and my worries after disaster school dreams. Seen from a human point of view, things seem grim, but seen through God’s eyes, things take on a deeper view. Like the gyroscope, I don’t really understand how this consoles me, I just know that I left the Sunday meeting feeling more assured that, like Julian of Norwich says, “All will be well.”
As I write these words, I’ve just returned from our 8th annual monarch butterfly workshop. The livestock (yes, that’s what we call the caterpillars and butterflies) was much less abundant this year, and what we did have to show the participants seemed to have a much higher prevalence of disease and parasitism. It seemed a foreboding confirmation of all the bad news around climate change. Throughout the workshop, I tried to keep the verse from Colossians in my heart.
We always end the workshop with a butterfly release and we only had 2 butterflies this year. One had a broken wing and the other had a crumpled wing and possibly a disease called OE, but we gathered outside with the butterflies in our hanging net. To everyone’s shock and amazement, these two butterflies decided to begin mating on the spot. They had only just met, but that didn’t stop them! They managed to fly off after separating their brief connection.
When I returned home, I reflected on the event and the meaning of it began to hit me. It was like these
two broken butterflies were defying the odds and displaying that the life force was greater than what was wrong with them. It seemed to me to be a perfect enactment of the verse that had struck me earlier in the week. There’s a lot wrong in our fragile world, but maybe, just maybe, there’s a balancing out that is happening beyond our understanding.
Somehow, tiny bit by tiny bit, it’s all starting to sink in that God has not only my back, but the universe’s back in control. Like the pilot trusting a gyroscope, I want to trust that in God’s good time and in God’s way, “All will be well.”
We cannot fall beneath the arms of God.
However low we fall,
They are still underneath us.
-William Penn (1644-1718)