WorshipWeb: Braver/Wiser: A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion

Part of the Mystery

By Laura Shay

“I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.”
―Wendell Berry, "The Peace of Wild Things"

When my spouse decided to raise Monarch Butterflies, I thought she had gone a bit overboard in her search for meaningful retirement activities. Although I have to admit, the plump, striped caterpillar she named Slinky quickly piqued my interest. I checked on Slinky daily waiting to see what would happen next.

A branch with at least a dozen green chrysales hanging on it; in one, a monarch butterfly's wings are visible.

Each day was an unknown. Will Slinky start to create a chrysalis today? How does it know when it’s time? How does it know what to do? I became fascinated. I kept thinking about my hospice families as they watch their loved ones, wondering Is today the day? How will we know?

It was amazing to see Slinky stop eating, then slowly crawl up the side of the cage getting into proper position at the top. Slinky seemed a bit agitated trying to figure out what to do next, but eventually Slinky stopped moving and hung in the shape of a J. By the next morning Slinky was entombed in a beautiful, jade-colored chrysalis.

My watching and waiting continued. Without food or water for days, how does Slinky survive? My hospice families often ask, “They haven’t had anything to eat or drink for days; how long do you think it will be?” We can make our best guess but we never know.

After almost two weeks, I watched as the chrysalis turned a deep purple. Then bright yellow and black colored wings broke through the green shroud. Slinky patiently waited for the wings to dry then fluttered about the cage. With a little coaxing, Slinky flew away, quickly disappearing into the sky.

Witnessing the lifecycle of a monarch butterfly has made me a better chaplain. The time it takes for someone to die can seem long. It’s part of the mystery. I often share what Slinky went through to help ease the burden of this watchful waiting. Slinky needed to quietly wait in a chrysalis to allow wings to grow. Maybe the same is true for us. It takes time to grow wings strong enough to fly.


Spirit of Love and of Loss, help us find peace in the wild things who teach us to trust in this great mystery of life, and to be patient as we learn to fly.

About the Author

Laura Shay

Laura Shay (she/her/hers) is a chaplain in an inpatient hospice facility in Maryland. She is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Rockville (MD) and the co-leader of their Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship. She and her wife of 35 years enjoy yoga, hiking, biking and...


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