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Readings: “The Idiocy of Flight

A well-known poem by Robert Graves speaks of butterflies—their "honest idiocy of flight," "lurching here and there by guess and God and hope and hopelessness." Any number of quotations sound this way, and so, I think do we. But privately.

Publicly we speak the civilized language of human beings who have things under control. No idiocy, no lurching. The world sees that we function well and happily. Other people believe it, and even we begin to believe it. Life moves forward as always.

Privately, though, we experience long stretches of turbulence and the occasional sudden downdraft. So many in our church feel alone when things go poorly at home, when they feel their age (whatever it is), or when they grieve. So many feel alone in their money worries or career problems. Awful life situations seem to set us apart from one another.

Normal lives include these awful parts. They don't always show from the outside; it's hard to believe any other folks at coffee hour are feeling the same kinds of screaming pain, or emptiness, or entrapment, or panic, or precariousness, or low-grade worry. Lives, even lives well-lived, don't stay in place for long -- at least that's how it seems from the peculiar vantage point of the minister's study.

It's a help, I think, to accept "the idiocy of flight," the butterfly flight-pattern so firmly implanted in the human mind and heart. Let the lurching, then, be no surprise, and know we're all up there flying every which way, together.


A Small Heaven: A Meditation Manual. Boston, Skinner House Books, 1989.

Copyright: The author has given Unitarian Universalist Association member congregations permission to reprint this piece for use in public worship. Any reprints must acknowledge the name of the author.

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Last updated on Tuesday, February 26, 2013.

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