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On Butterflies, on January 1

Artwork by Sister Mary Bilderback
Artwork by Sister Mary Bilderback
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By Sister Pat Kenny


I have a friend who loves butterflies. Actually, she loves everything in nature: fruits and flowers, bugs and big animals, fruit flies, even mosquitoes, with their delicate legs and fearsome proboscis, but especially butterflies. She keeps them on the open shelves of her life where she can see each one every day. But she doesn’t just “keep” them; she shares them. She’s an artist, and with her pen and brush she recreates their intricate shapes and colors so those who receive one can go on admiring them, captivated by their quiet beauty and reminded of the short and remarkable lives they lead.

On this first day of a new year, a butterfly has special meaning for me. Symbol of new life, reminder of the evolution of life, I can’t miss the significance. In a moment of fanciful imagination, we can see ourselves in butterflies, sprung from tiny creatures crawling through early life. Somehow, we too evolve, not in a chrysalis clinging to a branch, perhaps, but destined to emerge on the stage of life fully formed, unique in almost every way. Our life spans outlast a butterfly’s by decades; they must do in a few days what we have years to accomplish, but don’t let that discrepancy fool you. There is purpose in every life, and it is not to just be uniquely beautiful; we are meant to share our unique beauty, for as long or short a time as we have for sharing.

New Year’s Day, 2022, is a fog-filled, old-lady-gray day. It’s a bit scary trying to see through the mist, to make out shapes and colors and what they really are. I think of times in my life when the present and the future were dark, and something beautiful—something totally unexpected and amazing—slipped in like a butterfly. Distracted by it, the whatever-it-was that frightened me slipped away quietly and I could see beyond the darkness. I have painted butterflies in many of my books, gifts from my friend in troubled or special times, that continue to remind me of the ever-present gift of God’s presence in my life, and yours, and all the people, seen and unseen, whose lives this day, this special day of new life, are in jeopardy, or sadness or pain or exhilaration or whatever they may be feeling just now.

It’s unlikely a butterfly will be stopping by your home today, but something uniquely different, delightful, unanticipated but nonetheless welcome will come along. Try to see the gracious hand of God behind it, a gift just for you, God’s beautiful creation.