This is the third in a three-part series of posts on bugs. Don't miss the first two!
This is a picture of a cicada that's just emerged from its old
shell. It's one of the freakiest things you will ever see. (Posting
this made me want to throw-up a little.)
Here’s what the cicadas have shown me through their crumbly shells, their large silvery-green winged bodies, their desperate pulsing song. These bugs are formed in darkness, their eggs buried deep in the dark, cool belly of the earth. It's a necessary darkness, a fruitful one, like the womb in which we are all formed and grown. These bugs, like the psalmist says of us, are “made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth” (Ps 139:15).
It’s there in dank darkness that they wait. Waiting, some for as long as seventeen years, as they’re being formed into what they are not yet, but will be, with time. Do they get antsy waiting, I wonder? I know they’re not sentient beings, but it’s worth consideration, how they endure the wait. Maybe something in them, something ancient, tells them that waiting is what’s needed, like the child in the womb who doesn’t begin to push and strain downward until the time is right, who knows nothing but the present.
One day as I’m reading to my kids about these terrible-wonderful bugs the words grow large on the page, ripe with meaning, a line of poetry in the midst of all the scientific details, “they feed on the roots of trees.” Cicadas are nourished in the darkness by the deep, web-like roots of the trees their parents mated in. If you didn’t already believe God's a poet, surely this one fact would in and of itself convince you.
They're formed in darkness, knit together and fed by the deep roots of others until the time comes for them to crawl, push, climb upward, outward toward the light and air and sun. Picture them, these ancient skeletal beings poking out of the green blades of grass, the crumbling dark dirt alive with its own ecosystem. They emerge and continue climbing up trees and fenceposts, up anything that will continue their ascent for their desire, their drive, is to move upward toward light and life and the multiplication of life.
They climb, intuitively straining until the straining causes a cracking, a pulling open as their new life becomes too much for the old shell, the old protective husk, to bear. Then they break free, burst out, shedding the skin that held them, formed them, in the belly of the earth. The new rubbery green body hardens. The wings unfurl and they take flight. And this is when the singing begins as they add their voices to the chorus; the humming, buzzing, rising and falling on-going song of light and life that comes from death. The song of roots that feed, the song of waiting, the song of breaking through to the light.
Who would’ve thought that a creature borne in darkness would grow wings, take flight, lift their voices to join the on-going song of creation? But isn’t this the reality? Isn’t this what the lives of cicadas tell us and the butterflies too that kindergarteners everywhere observe in their sticky, smelly classrooms, the worm that becomes the beauty?
How can I watch this, hear this song all around me and not be changed by it? How can I help but be convinced of its truth? To me the cicadas speak hope, sing hope. Hope for the ones who willingly and unwillingly have fallen to the ground and died, like the grain of wheat, as the gospel admonishes. Hope for those who wait in darkness and wonder if, when, they too will emerge like Lazarus. Like Lazarus who heard an ancient voice calling, “Come forth,” and who came out wrapped in those old heavy, smelly clothes, that old skin that could no longer hold the new life within.
* * * * * *
By some miracle of chance and perseverance, my son catches a monarch and holds it in his hands while dancing and running and shouting for his sister to get the trap so he, so they, can keep it, this prize of nature. Then, just like that, as she runs and he glows and my husband and I stand slack-jawed with joy and awe, the butterfly breaks free and floats off into the puff-clouded blue sky. As we watch it fly, as we watch all of them flying, crawling, spinning, buzzing, we are changed. How can you not be changed, how can a boy not be changed by holding, even for the briefest moment, a bit of the fluttering, flitting glory of God in his hands?