Monday, July 25, 2011

Monarch Metaphor

The parable that Luci Shaw created in her book Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination, and Spirit: Reflections on Creativity and Faith, deeply resonated within my spirit.   In it, she tells of the felling of a dead tree in the winter after the death of her beloved husband. The loss of the tree, the space it inhabited, it’s strength, branches, roots and the scar it left in the ground, all became a metaphor for the loss of her husband’s presence, strength, memories and her remaining wound.  This God-given picture, a vision of sorts, was something tangible for her to hold on to.  Shaw writes, “It was then I realized why the felling of the tree occupied my thoughts so consistently and with such a sense of significance. It was because I was the frozen sod with the deep wound, and Harold was my tree who was simply . . . gone.”  I understood.
My heart ached as I read this and tears flowed easily… again.  It hasn’t been that long since the deaths of my mom, my father, my brother and my sister-in-law, all within the last three years.  There were so many times I cried out to God questioning the need for such suffering of beloved, elderly parents; or the unfairness of cruel, debilitating, terminal illnesses of my wonderful siblings.  I would pour out my heart to Him in whispers of desperation asking “really?”  Sadness overwhelmed me, my faith pummeled by waves of grief.   It was somewhere in that fog that I found a captivating prayer written by an ancient writer, Mechthild of Magdeburg, a medieval mystic nun from the 12th century. 

“Lord, I will tear the heart of my soul in two
and You must lay therein. 
You must lay yourself
in the wounds of my soul.”

Never before had I heard of His comfort in this way.  Sometimes in grief the loneliness of that experience is overpowering.  So the thought of the presence of God not only by my side, but actually laying into my broken heart, consoled me like nothing else.  I hung on to that picture. He was my peace.  I don’t pretend to understand the pain of losing a beloved spouse.  But I have been deeply threatened by it.  During that grieving period, my husband underwent a successful brain surgery to remove a benign tumor.  As his sister simultaneously battled an aggressive brain cancer, fear would tiptoe into my resting moments and taunt my faith quietly until I could hear its boisterous, mocking laugh and I would have to get up and move my mind elsewhere, always repeating the name “Jesus.”  Sometimes that’s all I could pray.
I feel deeply thankful to Luci Shaw for sharing her personal experience.  But, more so, I am thankful that in her wisdom, she has taken what she has learned over the years to validate, confirm, and encourage the soul of the artist who is willing to see God’s metaphors.  This is precisely how God works all things together for good.  It brings to my mind one of my life verses (Luke 22:31-32).  Where Satan has demanded permission to sift us like wheat through the storms of this life, Jesus himself prays for us so that our faith will not fail.  And when we have turned out of our seasons of difficulty, we will share with our brothers and sisters to strengthen them.  Luci Shaw is strengthening me. Without shame she acknowledges the powerful gift of metaphors, the ability to see them and create with them. 

For years now, I have photographed, written, and spoken of the monarch butterfly.  (Click on the ‘Monarch’ tab up at the top of this page.)  I have seen God through the life cycle and metamorphosis of this amazing creature.  He shows us a beautiful metaphor of the stages of our spiritual

transformation.   Sometimes, as I’m speaking about monarchs, I get a few funny, or quizzical looks.  People may think I look too deeply, care too much, or maybe I’m just too buggy or boring!  But, I feel no shame in saying that I see God in monarchs and I never cease to be amazed at His faithfulness that he shows me through them.

Thank you to Luci Shaw for her powerful words of affirmation:   ‘This is like that.  In fact, in metaphor, “this” is “that.”’  Luci, I needed those words.  Thank you.
I close with the most exciting moment… just as I was finishing this post today at 4:45pm; I caught sight of something familiar outside my window.  I grabbed my camera and looked at my milkweed patch.  The same milkweed patch that was accidentally sprayed with weed killer right before my son’s graduation open house in June.  During this long awaited monarch season, I have not been able to find caterpillars or chrysalis on my milkweed.  The eggs I found in early June met with demise, as the pesticides took effect.  Sadly, I have seen no monarch butterflies.  Until, I was writing this post…

 ...there He is again!

Patricia Spreng

Today, over at The High Calling, I am joining new friends for the first time as we read, enjoy and strengthen each other in this book club hosted by Laura Boggess  .  Thanks Laura!

Shaw, Luci (2009-09-01). Breath for the Bones (Kindle Locations 810-811). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Shaw, Luci (2009-09-01). Breath for the Bones (Kindle Locations 676-678). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.


  1. The quote from Mechthild of Magdeburg is gripping ... what a wonderful post you have shared with us.

  2. I agree with Susan--my, what an image that is! Such pain often knows no words, but metaphor can help to name it. Luci's story really touched me too, as does yours. I'm so glad you are joining us at the High Calling today, Patricia. Especially blessed by your Monarch!

  3. I love that story Luci told. And I love how you retold it.

  4. What a beautiful reflection on pain and metaphor. The prayer you shared is ever so moving! It reminds me of a poem by my friend Barbara Mitchell called "Holy Comforter"

    Part of it goes:

    "You have entered into my place of holy
    graced the altar of my heart with God's flame
    burning bright in Your eye
    gathered ashes from the hearth of my pain
    and scattered them wide to retreating winds
    You have moved into me
    so quietly
    so carefully
    when the black hour comes
    and I lean into the dark
    I can hear You breathing
    my skin"

    I am sad for your painful last years but so happy that butterfly was there today -- God's little way of saying, 'I see you.'

  5. Patricia, this was simply, achingly, painfully BEAUTIFUL, and blessed me deeply. I'd never read Mechthild's prayer, but felt it resonate in my soul. I lost my only sibling, my younger brother ten years ago. He was 32 and left behind a two year old son, and an unborn son he will only meet in eternity. That pain is like no other I've ever felt, and often there were only images, no words during those long dark days before the Son penetrated the pain and life rose around me again in color. Thank you for your words today. May they bless many!

  6. So many hard things. The monarch is a perfect image to carry with you. I'm very sorry for the pain you bear.

  7. I am sorry for your pain. Your story and the prayer by Methchild touch me. That prayer is one I will write down and refer to; thank you for sharing it. It brings a deeper meaning to the scripture I carry close to me "He is close to the broken-hearted".
    How perfect to see that monarch at the end, such gentle affirmation and assurance from a loving God, who sees each one of our hearts.

  8. The beauty through suffering of the Monarch is an apt metaphor. So much pain, so much redemption.


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