31 Days of Paying Attention — Day Seven


During the only unscheduled time available to us while on that retired pastors’ retreat, we took a side trip to the Arboretum at the University of California Santa Cruz — a beautiful spot to practice paying attention. There was a tiny butterfly garden in one corner and this guy was flitting from flower to flower, sipping the nectar and showing off his magnificent coloring. This one is called a buckeye and is very common along the California coast. Strangely, however, I don’t think we’ve ever seen one in Santa Barbara during our 20 year sojourn in this place.

Look at the color on this dude. The basics are plain to the point of drabness — just plain ole brown. But then . . . there are those large orange eyes, the white lines and circles, and not clearly seen in this photo, a shimmering violet color with a hot pink edge in the center of the spots on the lower wings. (check it out here). 

This lovely small thing was unperturbed by our presence that warm, late summer afternoon, allowing me to take his picture pretty easily. And it is the picture I took that allows me to pay attention to him, to wonder about his evolution, to thank God for creating such beauty for our enjoyment, and to say a mental ‘thank you’ to the butterfly itself for its contributions to the pollination of plants up on that sea coast hillside. 

A scientist named Lorenz came up with the formula for what he called, ‘the butterfly effect,’ a long-held but previously unproven belief that tiny movements can have huge outcomes. Here’s the more complicated wording for this idea:

In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.

Somehow, the whole idea of ‘chaos theory’ just reeks of God to me. To our eyes, so much of what happens in this world appears to be chaotic, doesn’t it? And yet when you add the word ‘theory’ to the word ‘chaos,’ somehow it takes on layers of meaning hidden beneath the turmoil that appears on the surface of things. I cannot know what ripples in the biosphere might be unleashed by this guy’s flapping wings. 

But God can. God does. Thank you, Lord, that the limits of my understanding do not in any way reflect the reality of life. Thank you that you are the Steadying Force in the midst of what looks like a whole lotta unsteadiness in this wacky world of ours. Help me to remember that truth — send butterflies my way when I get lost in hopelessness and worry. 



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  1. Elaine Byer Reed says

    I first heard about the “butterfly effect” in a book written by Madeleine L’Engle, one of my favorite authors. Not having studied a lot of science, I thought –WHAT! Then I came across it again in another book a couple of months ago. Hmm, so people are really thinking about this. So whether it is scientific or metaphorical or both, I guess God has something to tell us about His unlimited creation. Thanks for more to think about.

    • Yes, I’m sure I came across it in Madeleine’s work, too! It is wonderful to think about it, even thought I haven’t a prayer of understanding it!

  2. “Thank you, Lord, that the limits of my understanding do not in any way reflect the reality of life.” My words from God, through you, today.

    My butterfly bush is still blooming. I think I’ll eat lunch near it 🙂

  3. Margie Bicknell says

    “Oh what is man, that you are mindful of him?”…..And yet YOU are mindful of even the butterfly, ‘one of the least of these’, oh God.

    When I see streams of light slicing through the clouds to beam down on the earth, or watch the little ground squirrel quickly ducking into the water runoff pipe on our driveway, or hear a woodpecker pounding on the metal cinder stack on our chimney, I realize each of these things brings joy to GOD, and joy and a smile and laughter to me. We were created to glorify our creator, for GOD’s pleasure. And yet GOD has created this world to amaze us and bring us joy. Seeing the little things and the big things and knowing they were created by the mind and hand of GOD, is for me, joy and wonder. Filling me up like a blessing.