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Reflections from Rev. Emily Gage

What Does It Mean To Be a Community of Transformation?

A few years ago, my son’s grandma bought him a butterfly kit. It came with a big netted cylinder and a small jar that had five tiny caterpillars and some light brown stuff that was caterpillar food. I know—it sounds odd—and looking at the jar, we weren’t sure what to expect. But we followed the directions, and soon enough the tiny caterpillars were huge. And then—just as they said they would--the caterpillars crawled up to the top of the lid and turned themselves into chrysalises. We took off the lid and placed it inside the netted cylinder (you could zip it open) and waited. And then—still somewhat unbelievably to us—butterflies started to emerge from those chrysalises. We fed them for a few days, with our homemade nectar and fruit, and then, when they were ready, we let them go out in to the world.

We have done this a number of times since that first one, and it never ceases to feel completely miraculous to me. Watching such a drastic transformation is stunning, and for me, witness to some great mystery. I mean, who could have dreamed that up?

During that chrysalis phase, when all seems quiet and dormant, I can’t help but ponder what is happening on the inside. Of course, there’s nothing to see from the outside. That’s probably appropriate. So often transformation happens internally or so slowly that the changes are hard to track. One cannot usually tell, even, that it is happening. It often seems that suddenly something (or someone) is different somehow, either subtly or shockingly.

We have, of course, each of us, been transformed over and over again in our lives. I don’t believe, though, that it can be solely through our own efforts. People or things or experiences help shape that transformation. Sometimes our job is to just be open to it. One of my favorite quotes is included in this month’s packet on transformation. Barbara Kingsolver writes: “In my own worst seasons I’ve come back from the colorless world of despair by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time, at a single glorious thing: a flame of red geranium outside my bedroom window. And then another: my daughter in a yellow dress. And another: the perfect outline of a full, dark sphere behind the crescent moon. Until I learned to be in love with my life again. Like a stroke victim retraining new parts of the brain to grasp lost skills, I have taught myself joy, over and over again.” I have held on to these words and this practice many times over the years, knowing that it’s not a one-time event, but one in which you keep focusing, keep focusing, until something shifts inside. Transformation.

The question put to us this year in our examination of the themes is this: What does it mean to be a community of transformation? I think it means two things: that we are, each one of us, open to transformation from our interactions with each other. And that we, as a congregation, are open to new opportunities and new experiences. It’s safe to say that the latter is true for sure. We might even (with a little imagination) liken our time outside of our building to a chrysalis time, and when we return, we will embark on a whole new phase of congregational life—soaring in both the restored Unity Temple and our new community center at 1019 South Blvd. No doubt, it will seem miraculous.

Until then, may we stay open to all the possibilities around us and within us.