Reflections of God

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I carry my phone when I walk, so I always have a camera for the scenes of beauty which catch my eye. Since light is ephemeral and these moments are fleeting, catching them as they occur is important. When I come home, I often photoshop the image on my computer or in Instagram to get the emotions, which I experienced when I took the photo.

Winter Lake Reflections

Several winters ago, I took this photo. By the time I painted it this year, I was feeling more optimistic. Back then, I didn’t know if my daughter was alive or dead. I lived in hope, but I also was holding onto some fear, for I knew her drug addiction was going to be difficult to overcome.

The Cloud Rising

This is my most recent landscape. The cloud always reminds me of God’s appearance! Then I think of this verse in Job 38:34, when God asks Job, who’s been questioning God’s intentions and reasons—

“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,

so that a flood of waters may cover you?”

Poor Job, he’s not God. And neither are any of us. We’d like to make sense of the senseless, right all the wrongs, put order to all the chaos, and make things the way they should be. Of course, if we were in charge, the world would have gone to hell in a hand basket much sooner than it has already.

Maybe we should reread Job 42:3—

‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’

Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,

things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

In our world today, many changes are happening. Some of us want things to be “the way they used to be.” This would make us feel better and be more comfortable with a known world, but God is always recreating God’s new world–

“For I am about to create new heavens

and a new earth;

the former things shall not be remembered

or come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17).

If we are people of faith, we can trust in our God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). If Christ is the same, then God is the same, and so is the Holy Spirit. Does this mean our understanding of the Holy Trinity never changes? No, this means God’s love and mercy for us never changes! We think we can fall outside the bounds of God’s love, but this is only because we have short arms and can’t include all others within our embrace. Just as the water reflects the sky and earth above it, so we’re to reflect the attributes of the holy image in which we’re created and demonstrate the qualities of the heart and the same mind that was in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5).

Job, who was well respected and honored in his community, was enamored of his ability to assist others with their needs. He was a big man who used the blessings from God for good purposes. When he lost this status, he was upset. Once he met God face to face, he realized he’d been giving lip service to God, but didn’t actually know God. Many of us today know about God, but haven’t had an encounter or experience with the living God. We can’t reflect a love which we’ve never received, and we can’t share a forgiveness we’ve not known. Perhaps our first work is to seek God’s generosity for our own lives, so we can reflect it outward in the world toward others.

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ICONS: A Moment of Mystery

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Making Found Object Icons is an art project that evolved out of the Great Macaroni Multimedia Traveling Artandicon Show. In seminary during Art Week our fellow students were horrified we were making sacred images out of edible products, such as macaroni, lentils, peas, and beans.

Jesus is the Bread of Life

“That’s sacrilegious!”

“Jesus is the bread of life, and macaroni is just another form of wheat,” we replied.

“But it’s so ordinary!”

“Clay is ordinary, and so is stone. Can an object only be worthy of God if it’s made of expensive materials?”

“Well….”

“The value of all the chemicals in a human body is about $5.18, but we’re worth far more than that in the eyes of God. Some say God doesn’t make junk, yet too many people of faith despise and debase the body. I’ve always wondered why this was so, since the Son of God came to earth in human form, and as the great hymn in Philippians 2:5-11 (NRSV) says—

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”

Jeweled Cross

When we meet Christ at Christmas, we can get all warm and fuzzy because who doesn’t like a warm, cuddly baby? Maybe I have a soft spot for babies, but I really don’t trust people who don’t get a little ga-ga when the little ones coo and smile. I can understand folks getting squeamish at Good Friday and the cross. Most of us avoid as much pain as possible. Humility and obedience to God are not high priorities these days for many people. 

Flight into Egypt

Many tend to ignore this wonderful call to the Christ-like life, preferring instead the cop out of “Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” (Mark 14:38, NRSV). “Forgive us,” we say, but we hold others up to high standards. 
We make a distinction between our dual natures of the flesh and the spirit, a concept inherited from the Greco-Roman culture. It’s notable that the often quoted verse, “If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit,” is found in Galatians 6:8 (NRSV), for this was a Roman province. 
The ancient Mediterranean area had a knowledge/mystery tradition. The Greeks had their cult of Bacchus, the Egyptians the cult of Isis, and the Jewish had their mystical Kabbalah. The Romans had their dying and rising god cult of Mithras, the bull. Entry into all of these groups was by word of mouth only, given to a special few, and all had secret rites known to the members only.  Most promised salvation through secret knowledge, and the true world for them was spiritual rather than the physical world in which we live today. Ecstatic worship separated the believer from the body and the ordinary world. 
You might recognize these traits in your own church or worship community today, except for the ecstatic and enthusiastic worship brought about by mood altering substances. That’s not my church anyway! How do we come close to God? Across the centuries, the tradition has discovered contemplative prayer, singing, searching the scriptures, serving the poor, attending the sacraments, and creating art for God or the Holy Icons.
Making an object for the glory of God, to enhance the worship experience, and to honor God is a gift of the artist’s time and talent. No artist is ever paid what their training and talent is worth, for it’s a treasure from God to begin with—it can’t be valued. Artists have learned over the centuries to live simply, accept fame if it comes, and put a fair price on their work. 

Gail’s Cross

They get value in the spiritual real from the work they do, for the icon opens a window into heaven. As they arrange the jewels and found objects, and move them to a better position, the icon comes alive under their hands and begins to breathe. Only the person, who will be still long enough to hear the silence from beyond the open window, can hear the voice of God in this world. For this person, the icon is a treasure, and a place of holy focus, no matter how small or how simple the materials. 
This is the reason the artist makes an icon—to have a moment of mystery, a time of intersection, and a communion with the holy. In today’s hurried world, each of us wants a place in which we can experience for a moment the timelessness of heaven. 
When we return in the New Year, we’ll begin painting our own holy icons. The process is a spiritual journey, more than a destination or the attempt to reach perfection. We only need to “go toward perfection” each day!

The Spa Life and Righteousness

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As a gal who loves her spa days, few and far between though they are, I enjoy the pampering these small forays into indulgence involve. The friendly staff, the luxurious soft robes, the warm scented tubs, the cold needled showers, and even the brief stints in the steam box. Most of all, I live for the white terrycloth towels soaked in the hot spring waters, but cooled enough to put onto tender human flesh. The attendant who wraps my knees and back also puts an ice cold towel on my face before she leaves me alone to the quiet. Then I succumb to the ecstasy of this melting experience for about fifteen minutes.

Afterward, she wraps me back into my white robe to walk me over to the massage therapy room. She walks, but I sort of flow, for my feet don’t really feel connected to my legs or knees or hips. The heat can make a person feel giddy for a time, or perhaps the lack of pain is such a relief, I feel euphoric.

DeLee—Christ Blessing the World

I notice the other women waiting for their massages have similar beatific smiles on their faces. The magic of the spa day outing is at work. After our massages, we seem to glow from the inside out. This effect lasts for a few hours at best, until the experience wears off, and we return to normal. I understand now why my grandparents would come to Hot Springs for “the waters” on their vacations. They did the baths daily, for their supposedly medicinal cure, even if it served to merely relax then and distress them. “Take as needed” is a medical prescription we can all understand.

This brings me to my real subject: Faith and Righteousness. Of late in the public realm we’ve been treated to curious definitions of faith and righteousness by groups in powerful places and those who want to ascend to positions of power. “I go to church” is their definition of faith and “I got into the best college and law school “ has been their definition of righteousness. Evidently attendance in these places didn’t include a passing acquaintance with the dictionary or intensive study, much less convincing evidence.

Imputed righteousness and the Faith of Acceptance

Righteousness and faith for the average church going person is like the robe I wear at the spa for a while. I don’t own it, but I use it. It belongs to Christ, who imputes his right relationship with God to me while I wear it. I accept this idea by faith—the faith Christ had in God’s love for humankind as well as Christ’s faith God would raise him from the dead. I don’t own this faith with any depth of conviction, so my outward life isn’t changed in any way from a nonbeliever ‘s life.

As the writer of Ephesians says in 5:12-14–

For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Imparted righteousness and the Faith of Assurance

One day we wake from our sleep and come to the conviction our surface appearances have failed us. We see our outward professions of faith and righteousness are a mere mask for the carefully constructed False Self we’ve been presenting to the world. We see our own righteousness is weak beside the true righteousness of Christ. We no longer see our Self, but Christ. We depend only on Christ, and not on any strength of our own Self.

When we cast aside this False Self, we can finally “buy the robe of Christ,” which he purchased with his own life, death, and resurrection. We buy into the whole life of Christ when we let our False Self die, and let our New/True Self rise with Christ. We can wear this robe of righteousness everywhere we go, for it changes us from within. The evidence shows on the outside by our words, deeds, and temperament. Our attitude changes our behavior and the consequences follow suit. The inner person shows through in the outer person, for better or worse, depending on whether we merely borrow or buy the robe of Christ.

The question for all of us remains: Do we trust our goodness to our ethnicity, our deeds, our social status, our religious heritage, our political group, our wealth, our zip code, our strength, our beauty, or any other transient thing? Or do we trust the unchanging and eternal love of God in Christ Jesus, who gave his son so all of creation could be redeemed to its original perfection?

DeLee—Christ, The Good Shepherd Saves All the Lost

John Wesley has a famous sermon called “The Almost Christian.” He suggests we need to go farther and become an “Altogether Christian.”

You can read his sermon preached at St. Mary’s, Oxford, before the University, on July 25, 1741 at the link below:

https://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/John-Wesley-Sermons/Sermon-2-The-Almost-Christian

Our Best Life Possible

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When I was young, I thought I had to be Wonder Woman in order to please my parents. You know, the perfect daughter, the smartest child, the best artist, and the best behaved of all their progeny. After all, I was the first born and the only girl, so I’d had my parents’ undivided attention for those crucial early years. I thought if I worked hard, I could overcome any obstacle, and make any situation better, just by my force of will.

This is magical thinking, however. It works for comic book heroes who live in hard edge black and white moral worlds, but we live in the real world of fuzzy grays and complex moral choices. My family history of long marriages wasn’t going to extend to my generation, for I could no longer live with my alcoholic husband. I felt less like Wonder Woman and more like a failure. I told my mother I thought she and daddy always wanted me to be “perfect to earn their love.”

She looked dumbfounded at me, paused a moment and spoke, “Honey, we only wanted you to do your very best at all times. We knew you had more in you that you hadn’t tapped yet!”

This is the moment I forgave my parents for my Wonder Woman complex and learned to live with her. Not every person has had my parents. Some parents have no dreams for their children, so we must dream for them and encourage them to be superheroes in our classrooms, in our neighborhoods and wherever we meet them.

Other parents lack imagination. They see their children repeating their own lives as good enough. Yet, they too only want the best for their children so if they can only imagine their life repeated for them, we shouldn’t fault these parents for their lack of imagination. They never lived in our age or times, nor in our bodies or minds! We children can become the best we can be, for our world is far grander than theirs ever was! We won’t always live up to the expectations of our parents or the plans they imagined for us, but we will be superheroes anyway.

My daddy once told me I was learning in high school chemistry what he studied in college chemistry classes. This is why your six year old nephew or niece can work your smart phone faster than you can! The world’s knowledge explodes now, doubling every year, but with the internet it will soon double every 12 HOURS!

We won’t need to learn all this information, or keep it stored in our minds, but we will need to know how to access it. Asking the best questions, knowing what is necessary, and the sense of discernment to winnow the good from the chaff will be what separates the best answers from the better, the good, and the ordinary ones.

My latest painting is a self portrait as “Wonder Woman during the Great American Eclipse.” I traveled to Kentucky to see this wonderful event at Land Between the Lakes. We can all be superheroes at every age and in every body shape. Just as the eclipse united all of America in the joy of celebrating a coast to coast mass experience provided by nature, we each have a divine image within us that unifies all of humanity as one, for we’re each made in the image of God. As the Jewish queen in scripture was reminded, “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14)

How we become the best persons is a matter of becoming a superhero or “coming to royal dignity for such a time as this!” We’ll always be fine tuning our spiritual lives, our education, and our professional achievements. Even when we retire, we’ll find engaging opportunities for service to others and self improvement both. Most likely our spiritual lives will deepen and our family and friendships will take on more importance. I hope you all seek your best life possible, beginning today.

Join me in being a Superhero! You can be a hero for someone who needs you today.

Joy and Peace, Cornelia

MAGIC BULLETS

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Time to remember my mother. Everyone wants a good death: free from pain, remorse, and regret. We want to meet death on our own terms, looking at it nobly and peacefully, but the executions of two murderers last night in Arkansas brought the question of this concept into the arena of “who deserves a good death?”

The survivors of brutal attacks justify their decades of waiting for justice to be served, no matter how much or how long the perpetrators suffer indignity or harm in the process. They believe they cannot be healed without this. I wonder they ever consider the ripples of harm which roll out beyond the executions of these death sentences. The multiple events scheduled back to back here in Arkansas have our people riveted to the TV, witnesses lined up to view the gory deeds, and stressed lawyers for both sides working overtime. The prison staff has the emotional burden of ending the condemned’s life.

If we feel sadness when someone dies by accident or intention on our streets, I wonder why we feel less emotional burden when the state carries out a judgment of death. Have we decided some people aren’t valued enough to live? Yet we feel deep distress when animals are put to death in shelters when no one will adopt them. Are we now at the point animals are more valued than the image of God, no matter how flawed and broken this image is? Have we decided we can stop the work of forgiveness and reconciliation in this life, for this perpetrator and for the survivors of the crime?

Maybe we use the death penalty as the short cut in dealing with our emotions. We say “This is our magic bullet,” and then we go on with our lives. We may kill the perpetrator, but we need to kill the hate in our hearts. Until we find the path to forgiveness, and the source of love, the magic bullet is only a poison pellet.

NOTES ON A FAMILY TREE

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DeLee: In This Place, acrylic on canvas, 30 x40, $350

I’m finishing up my grandchildren’s family history scrapbooks. I got to thinking about our family tree. The high holy days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and the year end festivities bring families together. This often results in a few fireworks or flamethrowers at some of these gatherings. I suspect alcohol may be involved in some of this, but old grudges and scores, which haven’t been settled in decades, won’t get settled on this holiday either. 

My mother’s sister claimed our family goes back to the Baronial Order of the Magna Charter. These are a distinct group of the descendants of the signers of the 1215 document, in which King John of England granted the principles of constitutional law. The most important was each person, even the king, was subject to the law. 

For my family, the real importance was our Anglo Saxon ancestry was ancient and noble, as well as white. Our linage also qualifies us for membership in the DAR, Daughters of the American Revolution, and DOC, Daughters of the Confederacy, two more all white groups. Both of these are institutions of a bye gone age and a bifurcated society. I have folks in my family tree who liked to put on “airs,” as folks in the country like to say. All the old ones in my family tree went to their graves holding these beliefs firmly. I loved them anyway. 

Trees are meant to live by breathing fresh air and growing new leaves and branches. Even if trees only propagate by pollinating with their own kind, each tree is part of a giant forest of many species of trees. If a forest were a monoculture, a single disease or pest could wipe out the entire growth. If the forest consists of many different plants and trees, the destructive organism has to work very hard to destroy the whole, for the different and unlike species provide protection for one another. The variety of a diverse culture is its strength. 

If we human creatures took note of our surroundings more, we would not fear the Others, but would embrace them. We would make them our friends, and we’d defend one another from harm. 

The next generation of my family tree, I hope, is learning to love the other families of this diverse and wonderful world. I hope the branches of your family tree are open, growing, and renewing. Perhaps your branches can provide a shelter and make America friends again. 

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I will make changes in my life because change is the only constant. Trees burst forthwith new, tender leaves in the spring. Their full canopies shade is from the sun’s intense heat in the summer. In autumn, we enjoy their palette of colors and in winter we appreciate the stark structure of the limbs. Each transition has its own beauty. 

 
I really don’t want to chat about the changes I’ve been through: my last 6 months have been hard, but I’m getting over it. At least I no longer have an excuse for stress eating. Now I merely need to do something about it. 
I received my daughter’s ashes this week. I’ll have her memorial service soon. I’ll always know where she is: her cremains at my church’s columbarium and her new life with God. I feel much better now, better than I did during those decades when she was on the streets of San Francisco. 

Her new life and mine are starting at the same time. What in your life is a watershed moment, one which would set you off on a new journey? 

Maybe you need to forgive someone, forgive yourself, give up a bad habit, take up a new discipline, or make some other change to make a difference in your life. 

This could be the first day of the rest of your new life…why not make it now?

Psalms 79:9 — “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and forgive our sins, for your name’s sake.”

THE DARK SIDE

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 An Old Homestead, Hot Springs, Arkansas 

Reading about the killer of the Emanuel Nine’s worry that these martyrs were “killing whites to take over” sent me to the FBI Crime Statistics Table. This mistaken idea comes from the various hate groups the killer associated with. They reject the other, the different. They see themselves as good and others as evil. 
The statistics tell a different story from their fear mongering. We tend to hang out with folks like us, so we tend to kill people like us. So we can quit worrying about the “other,” for it’s the near at hand who looks most like us that’s likely to do us in! Only rarely will an opposite be the source of our undoing. 

Maybe this is why we have a difficult time accepting our “dark side.” We can try to keep this other at bay by excluding the hated other or by practicing some form of ritual purity, such as clean eating or avoidance of some food groups. We may even avoid alcohol, even though we aren’t addicts or have enough medically prescribed chemicals in our bodies to make drinking unwise. We can demonize the other to make ourselves appear angelic, but if we strip away our masks, we are all the same underneath. 

We are all human, we are all in need, we are all incomplete, all less than perfect in love, and all in need of the saving grace of God. If some hate so greatly, may we love ever so strongly. 

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”  ~~ 1 John 4:18-21

FBI 2013 Crime Statistics Table

https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2013/crime-in-the-u.s.-2013/offenses-known-to-law-enforcement/expanded-homicide/expanded_homicide_data_table_6_murder_race_and_sex_of_vicitm_by_race_and_sex_of_offender_2013.xls
 

MEDITATION ON RAIN AND REST

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Good morning! I’m back in my studio today. It’s a beautiful rainy day, just perfect for writing, but not for painting. Thanks to all who stopped by my booth at annual conference. We had our means of grace times! This gray day caused me to reflect that others might not have shared this experience:

Rain grows more flowers than thunder. While each of us might want to get back to work right away and catch up on our “missed opportunities” for ministry back home, a time of rest and contemplation might serve us better. First, we could process the events of the last few days during our time together. Did we find times to share means of grace with each other? Were we open to the call of the Spirit to stop and turn aside, or did we lurch from one agenda item to another to get things done? 
Did we take time to listen to one another or did we stand on the balls of our feet, poised to flee as soon as possible? Were our minds on the business of the meeting or on the person before us?

Second, we could ask ourselves, why do we not spend more time in Christian conversation with one another outside of annual conference? If sharing our lives together is a means of grace, why aren’t we offering that grace to one another more often? Perhaps we’re too busy working, or collecting our works righteousness points, for either the Lord or the Bishop, to enter into this self care and self love for one another. All we have to do is put this on our calendars as an appointment: prayer time, accountability time, study time, covenant group time, or support group time. 
  After all, Jesus had the disciples to go away with into the wilderness. Surely we could go to a parlor, parsonage or coffee shop somewhere with our preacher pals. Or are we afraid of risking intimacy? Do we fear that our human weaknesses will be rejected by those that are called to offer grace to all? Or is it because we have lost the Wesleyan understanding of “all can be saved by a God who is able to save all?”

Finally, we should sit and be quiet for a while, I believe, for with the rain comes either a nurturing and refreshing cleansing or a great flood with thunder and torrents that can’t be controlled. If we are to be the “non anxious presence” at the center, we need peace and quiet to hear God’s voice in our own heart and mind. 
Subjects for discussion starters: 
1. All are broken and fallen in this world. If Christ came to save the sick, that’s all of us. 

2. Historically scripture was used to advocate for slavery. We can’t imagine this now. We fought the “War of Northern Aggression” or the Civil War over this issue. 

3. If we are going to use one sin to get excited about, we should also pick up on those sins the Lord himself condemned. To name a few: divorce, adultery, greed, stinginess, swearing, judging others, and faithlessness. (Matthew’s gospel) 
We extend grace and forgiveness to constant practitioners of these activities, so we have a precedent for either deciding to include other “sinners” or excluding/purifying our pews of these additional sinners. We might all have to take up that “vile field preaching,” however. 
4. God gave each of us two eyes and two ears, but had the good sense to give us only one mouth. Maybe God means we should do more listening to others and looking at the world from their side of the street, and spend very little time speaking until we truly hear the heart of the other as our own heart. 
Then we can say with John Wesley ” If your heart be as my heart, then give me your hand.”

OUR LIVES ARE A WORK IN PROGRESS

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20140423-150046.jpg

Greetings! You haven’t heard much from me lately because I’ve been writing a spiritual journey sci fi novel that I’m posting by chapters as a weekly serial on http://www.souljournieswordpress.wordpress.com. I invite you to visit me there. It isn’t a blog, however, it is a work of fiction: think DR. Who and The Way of a The Pilgrim.

This photo is my latest work. I’m in full spring mode doing a butterfly series! This is Stage 4: Blue Morpho– my most recent work on the easel. The outer wings have to become darker, that right wing with the white splotches is only in its first stage of paint and the background has been laid in, but not articulated.

As an artist I have to live with a work on my easel that is in various stages of completion. I make a sketch on the canvas, then I begin to paint. Even here I often realize that I’ve not drawn my subject well, so I change the form as I paint. Just because I drew it off kilter doesn’t mean I’m locked into coloring inside those lines. If I drew the lines, I can draw others. These lines aren’t “fixed!”

Just so, our lives aren’t fixed by the decisions we have made earlier in our lives. Others will try to tell us this. It’s true if you burn your bridges behind you, it’s hard to cross those bridges again.

However, creative people will find a way to swim the river or hire a boat to cross to the other side. The lack of a bridge doesn’t stop them from going back and making amends so they can start over again.

God is the great creator who is making all things new. God can give us a new heart, a new hope, and a new spirit. We can be in the process of being recreated like the Blue Morpho–from a crawling caterpillar to a quiet chrysalis and finally to a beautiful butterfly.