Thursday, November 7, 2013

Preparing the Way ~ Or Not: Milkweed Spirituality

I feel a particular bond of affinity with milkweed plants.
My grandmother used to "raise" monarch butterflies, which is to say that she would go out and collect milkweed leaves on which tiny pearls of monarch eggs had been laid or on which very small caterpillars were already munching, store them in mason jars on her back porch, and replenish the jars with leaves in increasing numbers as the caterpillars chomped their way to full size.  Eventually the caterpillars transformed themselves into sea foam green chrysalises highlighted by strings of golden dots. A couple of weeks later the chrysalises would darken and the black and orange wings of a monarch butterfly would become visible; then, the first crack in the casing would appear, the butterfly would emerge to dry and expand its wings, and, finally, off it would flutter, perhaps to lay its own eggs on milkweed plants and eventually to sojourn to Mexico. 
If you google image "monarch butterfly life cycle," lots of photos of this exquisite miracle will appear.  For us, it was part of summer's routine: check the jars on the back porch, and bring them into the dining room to watch as butterfly emergence time drew near.
Last week as I took a long walk through one of the county parks near my church, I happened upon a few milkweed plants in their final stage of life.
It occurred to me that the plants themselves illustrate something of the spiral of a mother's grief during the holidays.  Closed tightly and barricaded with small prickly stubs?  Cracked open to spill forth seeds that might take root next spring?  Pod exhausted, seeds strewn, nothing left but the feathery wisps that once carried transported seeds via wind power?
Each year is different; sometimes, each day.  Each stage, sometimes brief, sometimes recycled again and again, sometimes extended for years, carries the invisible weight of its own terrible beauty.  Life begins and ends, and the mystery persists.

In which milkweed stage are you today?  This holiday season?


  1. Hmm - today..slightly cracked open…most days barricaded. I tend towards the barricaded mostly anyway. Holidays I usually close on up. I have felt the weight of the holidays a little so far but it isn’t crushing yet…so I’m hopeful.

  2. lots of effort, but don't think I'll ever emerge a butterfly...