One of my favorite little books is "Hope for the Flowers" by Trina Paulus. It is about a caterpillar named Stripe, who is looking for the meaning of life. After eating and eating, he stops and says, "There must be more to life than just eating and getting bigger." So he sets out on a journey to find that something. He discovers all kinds of new and interesting things, but nothing satisfies him. He asks other caterpillars about life's meaning, but discovers that they do not know anymore than he does.
One day he discovers a huge pile of caterpillars so high that it's top is lost in the clouds. All the caterpillars in the pile are struggling to get to the top. Stripe is excited. "Maybe I'll find what I'm looking for up there", he says. So he joins the pile and begins to climb.
It is rough in that pile. Caterpillars are stepping on caterpillars. With all the pushing and shoving, sometimes it is hard to breathe. There are so many caterpillars and only a few will make it to the top of the pile. As Stripe climbs, he keeps asking, " What is at the top?" No one seems to know. Yet he figures,"It has to be good; everyone is fighting to get there." Along the way he meets a female caterpillar named Yellow. They fall in love, and for her Stripe leaves the pile... at least for awhile. But the lure of the pile is too great, and the desire to find out the meaning of life, which he believes is at the top, is too strong. When Yellow refuses to reenter the pile with him, Stripe leaves her and begins his climb again.
Stripe is a strong caterpillar, and very good at climbing. With much struggle and effort he emerges triumphantly at the top...only to discover that there is nothing there. From the top he only sees other caterpillars, each at the top of nothing.
Stripe is disillusioned and discouraged. He wonders,"If the meaningt of life is not at the top of the pile, where is it ? Or is there any meaning at all?" As he makes his way down the pile, he tries to warn others that there is nothing up there, but they do not believe him, and they treat him with scorn, for they need to believe that their long struggle in the pile has been for something.
In the meantime, Yellow has found a new way. She allows herself to "die "- to become a cocoon - and she emerges as a joyful, purposeful butterfly. She appears to Stripe and in seeing her, his hope is restored.
Slowly but surely Yellow leads Stripe to the branch where he too chooses to "die" himself in order to be born again with wings and purpose. It gets darker and darker, and Stripe is afraid. He feels he has to let go of everything... and he does. Then one triumphant day he too emerges as a beautiful butterfly.
There is something within us all that seeks purpose and meaning in our lives. We know that life is more than just eating and drinking, working and playing. Many people follow the crowds as they struggle to climb to the top of a pile thinking that because so many are climbing it, there must be meaning there. Some of us pursue our careers. Others pursue hobbies or sports or education. Some of us pursue money or power or fame. None of these are bad unless we believe that our meaning and purpose are found there. Anything can become a pile for us, even very good things. Some of us will get trapped along the way in addictions to everything from alcohol to gambling, from food to working.The piles are alluring and unfortunately too many of us waste our lives in them.
In this season of the Resurrection, Jesus shows us a better way. When we "die" to ourselves - to whatever it is in our lives that seperates us from God - Jesus promises that we will rise with him to as new life, a life with meaning and purpose. Is it easy to "die" while climbing our piles? No. Will we be scared as we let go of all we have clung to? Surely. However, the only way for the butterfly to emerge in us, is for us to "die" to all that seperates us from God, and put ourselves completely in God's hands.
Pastor Diann O'Bryant is the minister of Gilman United Methodist Church, 312 Gilman St., Marietta. Thoughts of Faith is a weekly column written by various ministers and lay people. Those interested in scheduling a date for writing a Thoughts of Faith column should contact Christy Hudson at 376-5446 or email@example.com.