,I have never used the imagery of a butterfly’s metamorphosis in my fiction. (I did use it in my first book, a non-fiction, and have regretted it ever since.) The reasons are many. First, it is overused. Secondly, butterflies in general have been co-opted as a transgender symbol, and – that’s not me. Thirdly, for all the emphasis on and descriptions of transformation in the Bible,
the butterfly is never mentioned there. There are the death of seeds and fragile clay pots and living sacrifices, but nary a butterfly.
But recently I learned something very interesting about the metamorphosis of a butterfly. I guess I never thought about the actual mechanics of it; that is, what goes on inside the chrysalis. I guess I thought the ensconsed worm began to sprout appendages and wings.
The fact is that the caterpillar disintegrates completely before the transformation can start.
In the words of poet Carol Lynn Pearson:
When the caterpillar within the chrysalis has liquefied, special cells – called “imaginal cells” – begin an amazing process. They cluster together in small islands, communicate with each other, and coordinate the activity that will create the adult butterfly. . .
Liquify. That can’t feel right. It must feel like destruction.
Imaginal cells. The very word speaks of visualizing something, of reifying what is formless, of the power of representations that precede and form fact, as surely as God’s own words “Let there be light” preceded and formed the light itself.
Communicate with each other – out of this ooze of destruction comes language.
You understand what I am saying, do you not?
You write Christian fiction and you perceive that there are others that want this kind of personal destruction, this reduction to raw materials so that you can be something better, write something higher. Inside you, just as deep calls to deep, you are filled with the imaginal cells that can organize within you.
And on another level, you yourself are an imaginal cell as you communicate with others, yearning across this primordial vastness of synapses and cyberspace. You know, without saying it, the truth of the Epistle to the Hebrews: that we can only be made complete with others.
This, then, is the ooze of the transformation of Christian fiction. I am convinced of it.