*The Liturgical Poem for Easter: “An Impossible Darkness”
by Kim Rosen
So, let’s think about this.
go to the tomb to take care of business
and come back and tell Jesus’ men-friends
the body is missing.
And the men friends think the women-friends
are telling an idle tale.
Now there is a story with the ring of truth to it.
Being a man,
I thought that perhaps Kim Rosen
was spinning a fanciful poem
when she writes that
the caterpillar liquifies
inside the cocoon.
But I have to tell you,
and maybe you already knew it,
that is exactly what happens.
With the release of enzymes,
the caterpillar digests itself.
Really, it does in fact liquify,
becoming caterpillar soup –
not puree but more like wonton soup
with groups of cells forming the wontons.
You might think my calling them wontons
is not very scientific,
but neither is what biologists call
those various groups of cells that eventually form
the eyes and wings and feet.
They call them, “imaginal discs.”
Really, imaginal discs.
That’s pretty poetic for science.
So, the caterpillar dissolves all of its tissues
except for the imaginal discs –
the wontons –
and uses the soupy mush to feed those multiplying cells.
If that’s not amazing enough, hold on.
It’s not just magnificent butterflies either.
A fruit fly even –
you know, those annoying little nothings
that hover around the bananas
and are so easy to smoosh –
begins with an imaginal disc of fifty cells
for each single wing.
Each of those imaginal wing-discs
will eventually be composed of fifty-thousand cells.
So, from little wontons
floating around in a disgusting soup,
black nits composed of fifty-thousand cells each
emerge into “the inevitability of wings.”
Don’t you find that amazing?
Okay, try this.
One study of a particular moth,
suggests that it remembers,
what it learned in the later stages
of being a caterpillar in that time before soup.
In other words, even though it melts
into the thick darkness of dissolved rot,
its memory swims through
and arrives on the other side
with those wings.
If you are not amazed by that
nothing I can say is going jump inside your skin.
Speaking of skin, did you know that our skin is an organ?
I didn’t, not really.
I may have heard that before,
but I was a humanities major
with a very poor science background.
Our skin is our largest organ.
It weighs about eight pounds altogether –
mine probably weighs more than Peg Kennedy’s.
We know the skin has several layers
but did you know our skin ages quickly?
Oh, I’m not talking about wrinkles here.
The cells on the outer layer of skin,
the dermis, is replaced every month or so –
which means we lose about thirty-thousand cells
every minute of our lives.
Hold that more a minute:
about thirty-thousand cells die
every minute of our lives…
and that is just the skin.
The entire surface layer of our skin
is replaced every year.
Now on some level I knew that
but when I look at a snake shedding its skin,
I never think of myself doing the same thing.
It turns out that we are more like a caterpillar
than we might imagine.
We just don’t see it
because, like the caterpillar melting
into wonton soup, we are living it.
Hardly anything in our body lasts more
than a few years.
We think we are this solid physical form
we have had since infancy
only a bigger, older incarnation of it.
We have died one piece at a time
and been reborn
over and over and over and over again.
I am not lying.
Every tissue and organ in our body
dies and recreates itself.
The cells in the human body have an average age
of seven to ten years –
but looking around this room,
some of us have lived seven or eight times that,
at least one of us nine times that.
That means we are dissolving
and reforming and being transformed all the time.
Different parts of our body
die and are reborn at different rates,
so it is not a spectacular break-out-the-fireworks event.
The heart for example,
by age fifty, will have been replaced
by at least half, while, as I said,
the skin is replaced in total
every year or so.
Not amazed yet? Try this.
are colossal nuclear reactors
that burn so hot they transform
hydrogen into helium,
and eventually helium in to other elements.
When a star reaches the end of its life
it explodes and we call that a supernova.
It was supernovas
exploding in abundance at the core of our galaxy
that scattered massive amounts of
carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen,
phosphorus, sulfur outward.
In other words,
the basic elements
and building blocks of life,
of which our bodies are made,
came from stars exploding
millions of years ago, and millions of light years away.
Forty-thousand tons of cosmic dust
falls on earth every year.
That is what we are made of –
the dust of stars.
So when I say at someone’s funeral,
“earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,”
it describes where we came from
as much as where we are going;
and it would be more accurate to say,
“stars to stars, ashes to ashes, stardust to stardust…”
We are composed of stars.
That is not just some hippie song lyric
or moonlight poem,
it is factual.
Astronomers have mapped
that part of the galaxy
where our dust-ness is likely to have originated.
We think we know which supernovas we came from.
Okay, so, whether on a cellular scale
or a galactic one,
we really are like that caterpillar
that melts away only to be reformed
in the hidden darkness
before its return to flight.
If we cannot be amazed at that
I fear there is nothing to say about resurrection
that can make any sense whatsoever.
with going from science to theology
is really only an challenge of imagination.
The ability of memory
to traverse a dark soup of death
and come out the other side on a new pair of wings,
sounds like an idle tale
without the science to go with it.
But we do not have any science
to go with our primal narratives.
The wisdom laced into those ancient stories
that once seemed ridiculously fanciful,
can seem less farfetched given what we know from science.
All we need, is to allow ourselves
a grand enough perspective.
I am not here to make the case for the empty tomb
or Jesus eating fish on the shore of life
when he had sailed across the river of death.
But I am here to make the case
for your life and mine to be transformed.
No matter how old you are,
no matter how limited you may be,
no matter how solid you think your body is –
you are being remade right now,
in this moment,
one cell at a time.
You have already died –
over and over and over again;
and still you breathe.
You have been transformed,
one cell at a time
beginning with primal stardust
billions of years ago
and continuing right into this moment.
We have absolutely no room for cynicism.
Change and resurrection happens as naturally as,
well as naturally as
a fruit fly builds wings
from its own wontons.
Pessimism and skeptical negation
of hope and opportunity
are not born out by the facts.
Resistance to amazement
results from constricted perspective –
when our vision is hindered
and our perspective is too small
We are being remade daily
whether or not we believe it.
So when we get morose,
full of despair
that nothing good is possible any more,
we need to back up,
climb to higher ground,
and take a breath.
“I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
…be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating…”
If we could somehow have told those ancients
they were re-growing new skin every year,
they would have thought we were nuts.
Just like we seriously doubt Isaiah’s claim
that God can and will do a new thing.
But if memory can survive
the death of its body
and reappear with wings,
and our skin and other organs
are in a constant state of death and reformation,
it takes little imagination
to envision a new heaven and a new earth
remade and reformed
hour by hour,
day by day,
life by life.
we are riding a whale while looking for minnows
as we struggle with questions about resurrection
even as we are living it
one cell at a time.
In a cosmos
and within a skin
in which death and rebirth
is a story told hourly,
the fire of our hope should burn bright,
the power of our drive and resistance should be fierce,
and the tenacity of our love should be relentlessly resilient.
And if we find ourselves in a dark corner
questioning if new life is possible
and hope is reasonable,
we need to step back.
In fact, we need to do whatever it takes
to gain a larger,
wider, more engulfing perspective
so that we can see
the astounding rebirth and elegant transformation
going on around us every minute –
it is, so to speak, the soup we live in.