The Theology of Caterpillars
The first frost of the season sparkled as the morning sun broke free of the eastern edge of my world. I blew into my hands a couple of times in an effort to warm my tingling fingers. The vapor from my breath billowed in front of my face and dissipated. Undaunted, I set out, knowing that a good steady pace would soon help warm me.
Not long into my walk I noticed a wooly bear caterpillar crossing the blacktop road. I have no idea if the caterpillar was in a hurry or not; they seem to have only one speed.
It was fitting that the frost and the wooly bear would be out together on this chilly morning, considering that wooly bears are supposed to be something of a predictor of the severity of the coming winter. Longstanding weather lore has it that the wider the rusty colored band around the bug’s middle, the milder the upcoming winter will be. Of course, no scientific study has ever proven any actual correlation between the markings of the wooly bear and the harshness of winter; nevertheless, the legend continues to be passed along.
Another myth that the wooly bear disproves is that all caterpillars will one day hatch into beautiful butterflies. The wooly bear is not destined to be a butterfly at all. Instead, it will hatch into an Isabella tiger moth. The tiger, however, is not so bad-looking as moths go.
While the wooly bear may not be able to predict the weather, and it won’t actually become a butterfly, nevertheless, it is a core symbol of the Theology of Caterpillars.
When my now high-school-aged granddaughter, Hannah, was very little she was quite squeamish and afraid of many things. However, when she was coming up on her third birthday she spent a day with my wife and I in the heart of wooly bear caterpillar season. To my surprise she was enthralled by the fuzzy bugs.
I showed her how the caterpillar would crawl to the edge of one of my hands, and if I placed the other one right next to it, the wooly bear would then go from one hand to the other. She let me place a caterpillar on the palm of her own open hand. The wooly bear’s seemingly only defense is to curl up on itself and remain perfectly still. Hannah watched transfixed. After a minute or so, the wooly bear stretched back out, and began to feel around for an escape. Not only did Hannah allow the caterpillar to crawl from her hand onto mine and then back to hers; she even picked a few up herself. She stayed focused on the wooly bears for the better part of an hour, which for an almost three-year-old is just short of an eternity.
As I watched the delight in little Hannah’s eyes it occurred to me that there was such a thing as a theology of caterpillars. God delights in us. He loves to hold us in the palm of his upturned hand. He allows us to move around and explore. When we get too close to the edge and we are in danger of falling, he simply draws his other hand up close, let’s us find a new safe foothold and cross over. The big difference between little Hannah and God, is that God never tires of us. He will keep offering his free hand to hold us up, to hold us near, to hold us safe. All we have to do is trust Him.
May the road rise up to meet you.
His Peace <><