Sunday, October 14, 2012

Cocoons and the Fuss About Resurrection: Day 4 of 31 Days of Falling by Faith

Last Sunday afternoon—a week ago today—I took my 81-year-old stepmother, Dorcas, to a visitation prior to the funeral for the husband of one of her childhood friends. The funeral was to be on Monday morning and she had arranged to attend it with another woman from the retirement community where she lives, but she wanted to go to the visitation as well because, she said, it would be her only opportunity to talk to her friend.

After a fifty-minute drive (which included five minutes on a wrong road and five minutes of backtracking) we arrived at the Simmontown Mennonite Church, which was already filled with traditionally dressed Mennonite men, women, and children. I silently thanked God that I had at least decided to wear a skirt. (Dorcas hadn't, but she hasn't worn one in years, and on the way home in the car she announced, "It doesn't matter to me what anybody thinks about that.")

The line of people waiting to greet the family of the deceased was long and slow moving, but we eventually arrived at the front of the church. On the way we had to stand for a couple of minutes next to the casket.

My first thought as I looked at the lifeless body was the memory of seeing my father in that same position almost nine years ago. (I don't have a similar memory of my husband; because of the circumstances of his death, the casket was closed.) My second thought was, as though someone was whispering it to me, only one word: cocoon. Ah, I replied; the object lying in that box is merely a no-longer-needed cocoon that has been discarded by a butterfly.

I was almost right. Being an editor and a glutton for metaphors, I of course looked, at my first opportunity, for a definition and description of cocoon and what happens inside it. What I learned is that, technically speaking, what emerges from a cocoon is a moth, not a butterfly. The technical term for what hatches a butterfly is chrysalis. There are lots of websites that discuss the differences between cocoons and chrysalises (the purpose of both is the same), and between moths and butterflies. I'll let you explore them more yourself, if you want to, while I stick with metaphor-making.

According to Wikipedia:

  • "Cocoons may be tough or soft, opaque or translucent, solid or meshlike, of various colors, or composed of multiple layers, depending on the type of insect larva producing it." The bodies of human beings similarly display various differences, depending on the individual body's genetic coding. 
  • "Insects that pupate in a cocoon must escape from it." So must every human soul sooner or later "escape" from its earthbound body. 
  • "Some cocoons are constructed with built-in lines of weakness along which they will tear easily from inside." The equivalent in the human body may be a genetic "mutation" or perhaps a susceptibility or sensitivity to toxic environmental influences that "enables" the soul to leave the body soon after birth, or in the early years of the person's childhood or adulthood, or sometimes even before birth., the website of BUGMAN Educational Enterprises (BEE) in Columbus, Ohio, describes the cocoon or chrysalis stage of bug metamorphosis as "probably very difficult! And painful!!" The human condition is known for its propensity for and conduciveness to pain and suffering, and for its powerful inclination to avoid the same.

So, if the human body, as we know it, is merely a stage of metamorphosis that all human souls are destined, sooner or later, to emerge from, why all the Christian fuss about resurrection?

Well, a butterfly or moth still has a body, but one very different from the body of a caterpillar. When the Risen Christ appeared to His disciples after His Resurrection, he ate and drank with them, and they could touch the scars that remained where the nails had pierced His hands and feet (a detail of resurrection that deserves a post of its own).

In 1 Corinthians 15, St. Paul speaks of the metamorphosis of the human body: "It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one.... But the spiritual was not first; rather the natural and then the spiritual."

Is Paul speaking of each and every human soul that spends a moment or a lifetime in a "natural body"? Will each and every soul emerge from its cocoon an "incorruptible . . . glorious . . . powerful . . . spiritual" butterfly or moth? Or is something more required?

According to Wikipedia, "Within the chrysalis, growth and differentiation occur." It is these processes that transform the "natural" caterpillar body into the "spiritual" butterfly or moth body. But as we know, any process that can occur may also not occur; it therefore seems, well, natural, that not every caterpillar that enters a cocoon grows and develops into a butterfly or moth.

In 1 Corinthians 15, St. Paul distinguishes between "the first man, Adam," and "the last Adam," Jesus Christ, "a life-giving spirit." Each of us receives our "natural body" from the first Adam, but our "spiritual body" must be received from the "life-giving spirit," the "last Adam."

How does that happen? The different divisions (an apt word) of the Christian Church answer that question in a variety of ways, but they all agree that the spiritual body is a gift, or grace, that the recipient receives through faith in the giver.

And that is all I will say for now.


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