Last Friday, a dream came true as I sat with twelve elementary-aged children on our first day of garden club. The Green Growers is a lively group of enthusiastic and energetic young soon-to-be gardeners who explore the natural world with eyes wide open. On Friday, we were enthralled in a lively reenactment of a seed becoming an apple tree, when, suddenly, one student named Mikaya pointed at the table beside us with a gasp –
It was a butterfly, perfectly parched in our view, gently flapping her wings!
Immediately, half of the group reacted by running over to the being that captivated them – only to watch it fly away from its perch as a reaction to their motion. We then continued with our seed story, played an invented game of “plant and bee tag,” and went home for the weekend.
The next morning, I woke up early to find the forest calling my name. I found a solid log growing across a stream to sit, and write, and reflect on the past week. I watched leaves surrender to gravity and land upon the flowing stream. I watched runners pass by me without noticing my perched place – I felt invisible until, lo and behold, children spotted me! Immediately they tugged at their parents’ shirts. “Take me to the stream, I want to climb on the tree!” they said, though most often, the parents still did not locate the direction of their children’s attention.
Children’s eyes are born to be surprised, I thought.
Later that morning, I was running through the hilly section of the trails and found a butterfly accompanying me along the way. I naturally lifted my palm to give it a place to land, and like the day before, watched it evade the confines of my grasp while soaring higher into the wind.
I kept running, wishing the butterfly a gentle flight, and felt peace in continuing our separate ways.
Last night, sitting in Panera, my best friend John Michael asked me, what is hope? I could not come up with a concrete wording for him. He rightly critiqued hope as sometimes being a form of religious escapism – of hoping that life will change to escape the present. Then the butterfly came back to mind.
At a very early age, we learn that butterflies are formed in the cocoon, through a process of metamorphosis as a caterpillar becomes a winged creature. It is a time of darkness, slow growth, and uncertainty as the caterpillar’s body is digested to become “imaginal cells” with the possibility to develop in any direction. Externally, the chrysalis may not appear to be transforming at the times when the most growth is happening within.
We, too, undergo these periods of darkness, pain, and uncertainty. So what gives us hope that we may grow to open our wings?
If I had captured the butterfly in my hand, I would crush her wings. Clinging to beauty in my arms would smother her to death. Instead, hope empowers us to let her fly. Hope allows us to live in the present moment with arms wide open to the sky, saying yes to the infinite possibilities before our eyes.
After we finished dinner, I met a new friend at Panera who is also a Davidson student. He lives on a boat on Lake Norman after taking a year to pursue his passion of refurbishing sailboats and exploring the wilderness. His presence struck me as one filled with hope for his journey, for Davidson and beyond. But most significantly, he lives as a pioneer on the waters – and he must hope in letting his sail rise and wind guide his way.
At Quaker meeting this morning, my yoga teacher reminded me that sailing is not an easy course. Through the rough, stormy channels of our lives, we need divine guidance. In Quaker meeting, we sit and commune with the Light as a reminder that we are never alone on the journey. We are accompanied by the hope that lies on the horizon – the beacon of Light guiding us to be more fully present. As we surrender our sails to the winds here and now, we may steadily gaze upon a new future.
If the people of El Salvador taught me one thing, it is the hope is the most powerful of human emotion. It defines our perspective to reality. As a people with a deep seated memory of trauma, Salvadorans are grounded by a true affirmation of dignity, equality, and justice. In liberation theology, hope is the primary virtue for creating a new humanity. The faithful to hope are open to question the present order, see possibilities hiding in the trees, and harness the transformational power of conflict toward new beginnings. Hope is what gives us the freedom to shape our destiny.
As we sail through the stormy channels of uncertainty, we all need something greater to believe in. We need a story that reminds us that the sun will rise tomorrow morning, the seeds will sprout from the ground, the tides will flow back to the shores and that in each moment, we can be reborn. We all need hope.
Like my friend John Michael mentioned, it is easy to see hope as a way to escape reality. But in truth, it affirms our purpose for being here. Tonight, my friend Gabe reminded me that though I may feel isolated and cradled in Davidson at times, this education is a tremendous gift for the future. He shared words of encouragement that refocused my energies to the present and gave me a horizon to gaze upon. Thank goodness for the Light of friends, of butterflies, of Sabbath days and children’s eyes.
Tell me, what brings you hope?
The stream is waiting for you,
a yellowed and fragile leaf,
to let yourself fall. You are born with this yearning,
this soulful imagining, to make manifest the glory of the wind.
You will only know love once you surrender to air
back to the source – to your oxygenated existence.
What if it’s not about control in the end,
but how we let ourselves be bent
as arrows in the great Archer’s hand?
What if it’s not about escaping pain,
believing that our patterned wings are birthed
by grief weaving her arms around us,
and trusting we are not meant to close up in darkness?
What if we lived not for security, but in the childlike absurdity of a dancing leaf,
in the emptiness of a heart stricken by grief, in the mercy of a gently flowing stream?
As you forget your clinging ways, swim in the beauty of the present,
where the God of Love is all there is to praise
for a gentle wind is wrestling you awake.