Last Sunday I visited St. Michael and All Angels church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Like the church of my childhood that I mentioned a few weeks ago, this church has grown immensely since I was a child, from a small adobe sanctuary to the sprawling, active campus it is today. I love their bright, airy, New Mexican-themed worship space—and was surprised by an Eastertide addition when I arrived last Sunday. Literally hundreds of origami butterflies adorned the sanctuary, floating in the air, clustered around the cross, alighting on a huge, translucent banner that hung in front of the organ pipes. Because they “die” in the “tomb” of the chrysalis and emerge as radically changed creatures, butterflies have long been a powerful symbol of resurrection. (As a child, when my birthday fell on Easter, I was given a beautiful butterfly pendant with the body of a cross, and it remains one of the most meaningful gifts of my life.)
Like the banners at St. Andrew, the butterflies brought me to tears, but for different reasons. I think that part of what impacted me was the communal nature of this witness to the resurrection. Each origami butterfly was clearly handmade. They were different sizes, different colors, and each slightly different, although clearly modeled on the same pattern. I found myself imagining the entire congregation gathering together to create these, generations working collectively to teach the folding sequence, create the butterflies, string them together, then hang them in the church.
I also find myself thinking about the long history behind origami, which has been practiced in Japan for hundreds of years. I’ve seen, in person, the thousands of origami cranes that adorn the Nagasaki memorials—a clear call for peace in a place literally obliterated by war. Origami cranes continue to be created, around the world, to symbolize the need for peace today.
Many people are afraid of what they see as syncretization in the church—especially when they believe it involves the incorporation of elements from other religious traditions. Those who believe that contemplative prayer is Buddhist simply don’t know their Christian religious history, as contemplative prayer harkens back at least as far as the Desert Mothers and Fathers in fourth-century Egypt.
I, on the other hand, believe that the encounter with other traditions strengthens us. When we enter into sincere dialogue with another, seeking to learn and grow from the wisdom we each have to share, we must reaffirm where we stand, and be willing to be challenged and changed by the wisdom of the other. These opportunities also provide us with the chance to imagine and manifest our own faith in new ways—as these origami butterflies boldly proclaim. Just as butterflies no longer resemble caterpillars, so authentic spiritual life today does not always resemble the faith of our forebears. The Holy Spirit is always making all things new (Revelation 21:5).
Where have you experienced God making things new in your spiritual life?