Do you ever have things happen that you understand as a message, but have no idea what to do with that message? The past few weeks I have experienced the abundant arrival of butterflies everywhere I look. Not only in my garden, but in arbitrary sources like books, conversations, dreams. Then last week, unexpectedly, a family friend and beautiful human being whose life's vocation was the priesthood died, and the last image he posted was of a beautifully embroidered butterfly. I decided then to take heed of these numerous messages and paint butterflies, honoring this man who dedicated his life to being an example of God's love and desire for us to have an abundant life. Thank you, Father Andy, you brought beauty and laughter into this world every day you were here with us.
I got out my paintbrush and dutifully began some simple butterflies. By the way, I don't paint butterflies. This has never been a subject I wanted to pursue. Their perfect symmetry, delicate designs, proportions, all intimidate me. But the more I thought about the symbolism of the butterfly, and the strange situation we all find ourselves in, the more they began to appeal to me. The idea of the darkness of the chrysalis, the difficult labor of transformation, the rebirth, leading to the release and freedom of this delicate creature whose work sustains all of us. If nothing else, the butterfly reminds us to remain hopeful that the hardships and inner demons we struggle with during this time of isolation will lead to a better understanding of ourselves, our unique gifts and work, our relationships, and our priorities.
I disappeared into the studio for a few hours, drew and painted a few butterflies that were gaudy, heavy and overworked. I started feeling defeated by the whole situation, wondering if this butterfly thing was all in my head and thinking I was wasting time while laundry needed to be done.
After a couple of days of not painting, at the prodding of my husband who had seen my reluctance to get back into the studio, I went out and sat down, cleaned up the area, turned on my music and started just playing with my paint and water, at first halfheartedly. Not trying to recreate a specific butterfly, but using simple contour drawings of butterflies to experiment with different watercolor effects. I started to love what was happening as pigment and water did their magical dance on paper. I was able, finally, to enter that place we long for as artists, to be in the moment, losing myself in that sacred space of creating.
I have been painting butterflies daily since. Throwing off the judging voices in my head that tell me I'm having too much fun doing this and it's not "important" work.
My butterflies remind me that we all need renewal and freedom. That slowing down to appreciate play and beauty is essential . That the stasis we have endured will end as these times teach each of us personal lessons that will apply to the rest of our lives.
These butterflies are especially dedicated to those I think of and pray for who have dealt with incredible difficulties during these past months, enduring suffering, loss, and hopelessness. My desire is that these paintings will be a reminder of the hope and love inherent in all of our individual journeys, even during the worst times. Each one of us is born with a unique beauty, wholeness and strength to find freedom from those things that oppress us , to become who we were truly meant to be.
With love and gratitude, Gretchen