One year ago, a 44 minute 3D documentary was released called Flight of the Butterflies. It tells the story of Dr. Fred Urquhart and his wife Norah’s nearly 40-year-long scientific investigation into the monarch butterfly. In 1976, Canadian born Urquhart discovered the Mexican forests where the monarchs migrate to each year. It was a world famous discovery.
I’d been itching to see this movie since its release, and when a member of our local Monarch Teacher Network committee arranged for it to come to Winnipeg just for school groups, I knew I had to take my class. This past Monday, we went to see it. Can’t top that for a Monday morning!
I had been looking forward to the movie but wasn’t quite expecting how it took my breath away and drew tears pretty much in the opening scenes. I was surrounded by about 100 school children, and this has got to be the best way to see the movie. Everyone felt the same way I did as I heard gasps and awe-struck cries of delight all around me.
The 3D experience is still pretty new for me, and I have to admit it is spell binding. Children all around me were grasping for butterflies that seemed to fly right in front of us. Even I forgot I am an adult and found myself reaching out, expecting one to light on my hand. I hadn’t anticipated the magic and wonder this story could renew in me. It made me remember why I care.
If “making us care” was its goal, the documentary couldn’t be more perfectly timed, for now is exactly when we need to care. Sitting in the dark theatre with my goofy 3D glasses on, I knew what my students were only dimly aware of – that the monarch migration is threatened. 2013 has been the worst year on record for this mighty insect. Numbers all across North America have been down by as much as 80%, and last winter’s overwintering population in Mexico was the lowest ever. I’m not a big cause person, but this is one issue I have been known to go on about to anyone who will listen, especially this year. “Plant milkweed!” is the message we need to heed if the famous monarch migration is to continue. It breaks my heart to think it might end.
My passion for this insect and its ability to inspire students about nature started in 1996. It took only one milkweed plant and the monarchs that miraculously found their way to my garden to hook me for life. Through many years, I have loved bringing the monarch to my class, inspiring others to love nature. The issues of climate change barely registered for me back then, though of course changes were already underway.
Through the years, the monarch’s journey has woven itself through my own, becoming an emblem for the transformation and healing I’ve come to experience thanks to God and my community of faith. One huge part of this journey was the life-changing trip I was honored to take to Mexico in 2009 to see the monarchs in their winter habitat.
A few weeks ago, our community went on our annual fall retreat and this year’s theme was the question of “Why did Jesus have to die for us?” The theological word for this is the atonement. Hidden in this dry sounding word is the phrase “at-one-ment”, and this helped me understand the topic. As we went through the weekend, we were asked to consider a situation either in our lives or in the world which was not “at-one”. What places in our lives felt unreconciled and divided? It’s a great question, because that’s exactly what Jesus came to address.
I chose something that had been giving myself and many others much dismay, the plight of the beloved monarch. Thinking of the massive loss of milkweed rich habitat in the monarch’s flight path through North America gives me grief and anger. I want to point fingers at “others” who create the problem, but I know I am part of the North American life style. Why does the world have to suffer like this? Why do we create so many problems in the world that seem irredeemable? Climate change and all the beautiful species in our world that are at risk seem to mirror the problems that surface in the human soul – the suffering that we create in ourselves by our fallenness.
The problem seems emblematic of many of the deepest problems I’ve encountered – beyond my grasp to try and fix. If I’m not careful, my dismay can lead to a lack of trust and hope for the future; in short, a lack of trust in God. Cynicism can take root in me, and this summer I noticed how contemplating the monarch issue had this effect. It was like the “bee in my bonnet” that could leave me grouchy and on a rampaging mission to save the species. It’s not that we shouldn’t care about the world, but when I recognized the cynicism, I knew that I needed to shift my focus. I have had my fill of this type of closed outlook.
Since the retreat, I’ve asked instead what it would mean to see the situation through God’s eyes. God’s world is expansive and fecund, and I felt like I was invited to give my worry to God. The message of the atonement is that Jesus lived to go into the darkest places so we wouldn’t be without hope. God is with us in all our places of suffering, and the cross is the greatest example of that. In the darkness, God is there.
The movie last week was a gift and helped me remember why I care about monarchs – about the magic and wonder they bring to us. How they point us to a story of transformation, of metamorphosis. I haven’t forgotten that they’re in trouble, but maybe I will keep my feet planted in hope, releasing my worries to Someone who knows what to do when I am stumped.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. Isaiah 53:4