Believing in Butterflies

Butterflies and Hurricanes 2

Butterflies and Hurricanes 2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night I went to a dance concert by the Stephens College Dance Company. Whenever I attend dance concerts one of two things happen. I either 1) leave scratching my head saying they moved well but I don’t get it; or, 2) get swept away in the imagery, the movement, and wish that I could become a dancer and share life in that magical way.

The performance last night swept me away in every way possible.

One of the pieces they did was called “Butterflies and Hurricanes” and was “Dedicated to the children who survived the Joplin tornado.” A choreographer’s note explained:

“After the Joplin, Mo. tornado in 2011, several children recounted stories of their experiences. Many reported seeing giant butterflies that held them to the ground, and kept them safe and calm. Incredibly, these stories were gathered separately, but seemed to include the same details. Could there be magical butterflies out there, or do they just live in the imagination of children? You decide.”

The power of this idea, this image, spoke to me on many levels. It wasn’t just the amazingly beautiful dance with twirling umbrellas, the lights that brought back memories of the  darkening sky of that day in 2011 (the storm that hit Joplin went over us in Independence, KS), or the elegance of the dancer on point wrapped with blue fabric that extended out to form her wings to incredible effect.  All of those were powerful, but the story behind it begged for more attention.

I did a little research and found this article called “The butterfly people of Joplin” which goes into details of the events on that day, events that lead to a belief in angels for many people.

Do I think the butterflies were angels? Perhaps. I do know that somehow butterflies, for me at least, reflect the connection between the seen and the unseen, the real and the magical,  what we know because we can see it and what we know just because we know.

Once, long ago, I sat on one of the energy vortexes found in Sedona, AZ and asked for a sign, for some guidance, for some clue that I was making good choices in my life. A butterfly landed near me and I thought, perhaps, that it was a spirit guide. I know I have a picture of that moment, but not on this computer.

Photo by Steve Kramer. Bell Rock, one of the most powerful vortexes (not the one I sat on)

Since then, I have been drawn to butterflies. Whenever I have the opportunity I go to butterfly houses and spend time watching those magical creatures . I’m always trying to capture their beauty on my camera, but somehow they manage to elude me.

Perhaps their message for me comes from the moment.

I remember as a child seeing the most beautiful butterfly I had ever seen. It was black with tiny dots of color along the edges of its wings, like someone had drawn on it with pastel dots of paint. My guess (now that I can research it) is that it was a swallowtail, although I swear it had more variety of colors on its wings.

Whatever it was, I still remember feeling honored to see it that day long ago.

When we were still in Kansas, I led a play reading of The Bones of Butterflies  by Marcia Cebulska, which I wrote about here. Marcia, who is a talented playwright and magnificent woman, went on to work on a special project this past year called The Greensburg Project, which looked at the story of the”survival and journey home” for the town of Greensburg, KS after a devastating tornado destroyed the town. I could not help but think about Marcia and her play “Rooted: The Greensburg Odyssey” last night.  For more about the project, visit this site. I was unable to see it, but I so wish I had.

I know this post seems to be wandering all over the place, almost like the flight of butterflies, random and elusive.

But somehow I feel like magic is building around me, if I simply could understand the call of the butterflies, and the message they are trying to send.

I believe in butterflies. Do you?

An All Powerful Being Wouldn’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Tibetan endless knot

Image via Wikipedia

For some reason religion has become the topic of discussion around me lately. Maybe it is because of my post Hell is Living in the Bible Belt (which seemed to push buttons for several people) or because I am living in the Bible Belt. Maybe it is because I have been doing a lot of thinking about the meaning and purpose of life. Whatever the reason, discussions about religion seem to sprout out around me, leaving much food for thought.

At our ladies’ night the other night, the topic came up again. You would think a bunch of women getting together with wine and food would not be quite so serious. But no, we spent hours contemplating the complexities of religion. Each of us reflected on our own discontent with many aspects of religious belief, as well as the overburdening guilt that comes from breaking away from the traditions we were raised in. Several of us have adopted belief systems from many religions. Some have recently recognized that the religion they held dear no longer feels right.

We all seemed to be searching for something, but that something does not fit comfortably in the mold of organized religion.

The conversation continued today between myself and one of the women from that group. Now, we come from completely different backgrounds. She was raised Mormon. I, if you haven’t figured that out yet, was raised a conservative Jew. We both have broken away from those traditions in some ways. At the same time, we both believe there is something out there. I call it energy or spirit. She still calls it “god.” It doesn’t matter what term we use.

We recognized that one of the problems we have with religion does not lie in belief or disbelief of  this entity. No, the problem lies in how human beings interpret their belief. It lies in the way people judge others for what they deem inappropriate or “blasphemous” behavior. It lies in the fact that anyone who doubts or questions immediately takes on a sense of guilt or shame because somehow they might feel like they are failing those who claim to truly believe.

But the reality is, that some of the true believers in whatever religion are nasty people. The more fanatic they are, the nastier they sometimes seem. In religions that teach loving, forgiveness, and kindness (which I would argue is something most religions have in common) people feel free to judge, condemn, and even hate.

But really, if there is a higher being, do you think he/she/it is really going to care if you eat the right food or say the right prayer or even believe in the right god? Maybe all gods represent this entity. I think that the only thing that being or energy would really care about is that we live as kind, loving caring creatures who do as little harm as possible. What matters lies on the insides, not in the trappings of faith. He/she/it simply would not sweat the small stuff. That’s a power that I can believe in.

The conversation is going to continue as this group explores the changes we each seem to be going through at this time in our lives. I think it will be an interesting journey.

Hell is Living in the Bible Belt

Roadside Religion

Image by jcbwalsh via Flickr

Has this ever happened to you? You are driving along at a decent clip on a long distance trip, reading the occasional billboard as a distraction from the monotony of sun glinting off of cars and white lines moving into the distance. Then larger than life you see in big block letters:

AVOID HELL! REPENT TODAY!

TRUST IN JESUS!

Signs like these appear out of nowhere offering redemption for those who accept Jesus into their hearts. But it is also signs like these that make me feel like I’m already living in hell.

I don’t know what I believe happens after death. Maybe I will go to hell, burning for eternity in a torturous world of flame and agony. (I’m sure many people reading this are nodding their head envisioning me engulfed in flame). Maybe I will float around with wings listening to angelic music. Maybe, given my fascination for the paranormal, I will return as a ghost to haunt the location of my death or the memorable places of my life. Maybe I will be reincarnated into a better being, with more knowledge and understanding than I have now. Maybe I’ll come back as a slug. Or maybe I will simply crumble to dust after having an epiphany on my death-bed (as I’ve written about before).

I really don’t care what happens. I am concerned with living the best life I can while I have this life; living in joy, day by day, and doing no harm.

But then I pass signs like this dotting the highway through Indiana and Missouri. These signs and symbols announce in gigantic glory that I am going to hell. But no, I realize, I am already there.

T o me hell would not be a place of torture and heat, but rather a place where I am not free to question and think, to challenge ideas and form my own beliefs and understanding of the world. My idea of heaven would be a place where the basic tenets of belief were: “I believe what I believe. You believe what you believe. As long as our beliefs don’t hurt each other, then all is good.”

But sadly, I am now living in a place where I feel the need to censor myself. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are warm and wonderful people here.  Yet, I am always conscious of being different somehow. I think differently. I was raised differently. I have different beliefs. That difference is subtly glaring, like I have horns growing out of my head that true believers can see.

I admit, when surrounded by people who embrace certain beliefs as passionately as people here do, I cling even harder to my difference. I’m not really a religious Jew, but when confronted by a wall of Christianity my Judaism shines like a menorah in the window. It is a defensive act. I know I cannot win against the unspoken judgments that surround me, so I hold tighter to my own understanding of the world.

I would call myself more spiritual than religious, incorporating into my own personal religion the ideas and attitudes that are welcoming and comforting. I cannot condone any element of religion (in any religion) that says one group is better than another, or one sex is superior, or only one lifestyle is correct. That is where religion fails.

I don’t know the true answers. I do believe

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Shakespeare, Hamlet I.5)

In many ways I envy people who are true believers; who can live life with blind faith and trust that Jesus (or whatever god) will solve their problems and bring them safely home. If heaven is home.

But I can’t.

So, while I respect the right of each individual to believe whatever he or she wants and I recognize the importance of free speech, I would really appreciate it if I didn’t have to be reminded that I am doomed as I innocently drive down the highway. That makes for an uncomfortable ride.

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