When I see a butterfly in a summer field, it brings back a specific memory. The impressions are as vivid as they were nine years ago, when I witnessed something miraculous! My rare observation was not in warm weather, nor was it outside in a field of flowers. What I witnessed took place on a frigid winter day in a large urban hospital room, in the Intensive Care Unit.
I watched quietly while two butterflies played together in the stillness of thin air, as though time had vanished. This vision I saw happened unexpectedly, just a couple of months after I lost most of my eyesight to a rare disease. I had not yet had any rehabilitation or training and could no longer see my own face in a mirror.
I lingered for hours at the bedside of our daughter, Heidi Melinda. She was in a medically induced coma following surgery to remove two cancers. After the surgery that removed ovarian and kidney cancers, it looked like she was in serious trouble. She was on life support, not breathing on her own. Her lungs were failing.
Heidi was motionless. Tubes sprouted out of her body and ran up to the ceiling or were attached to machines on both sides of her bed. Watching over Heidi, I felt like I was living in a netherworld. I seemed to be viewing my daughter through a sheer gray curtain that no one could pass through. I felt helpless.
Heidi’s coma lasted for two weeks. Nurses and doctors were at her side or directly outside her transparent room as they controlled the computers connected to her room full of equipment. Someone sat at the computer continuously to watch her vital stats and medication controls. Heidi had been given the name Sleeping Princess by the nursing staff.
I sat in a chair at the foot of her bed. My blurry eyes tried to focus on her. I realized suddenly that Heidi and I had two unexpected visitors. They had not come in through the door.
I watched in silence as two enormous butterflies emerged from the atmosphere near her feet. I saw them distinctly, in every detail and in full color. I saw them closer than I had ever seen a butterfly before that day. The brilliantly vibrant pair flew gently, gracefully forward. They appeared to be playing with each other, as butterflies do when you see them gliding and hovering around the dancing blossoms in a field on a summer day.
These two butterflies were a deep crimson red. Each graceful wing was the size of my hand. They were bright, velvety, and generously proportioned. In all my life, I never saw a butterfly as large as this mysterious pair. I watched them, and it was as though they were dancing together. Yet the frolicking butterflies were the most normal scene I could ever experience.
I knew they were not ordinary butterflies! This was a miraculous moment, something from another time and place. Heidi’s body became the field over which the butterflies zig–zagged back and forth. They moved so elegantly towards her head. I watched them for what felt like a long time, but I believe it was probably only seconds. The dance of the red butterflies was like an eternal moment when time did not exist.
They gave me hope for my daughter’s recovery. I sensed that they were a pictorial symbol of the Holy Spirit. I felt an inner peace and divine assurance at that moment.
Spring sunshine brings us the beginning of flower gardens that will turn into a riot of vibrant colors we will enjoy until the end of the autumn season.
Time passes, though, and in our joy of the moment, we are unaware when the days begin growing shorter. Months and years pass. We barely notice the changes. The glorious dance of the butterflies, insects, and wildflowers gradually changes. There is a final time of blazing colors when everything intensifies. Autumn, we’ll recall, brought a different kind of landscape to our vision. It was a beauty more intense than our summer days had been.
Sometimes a person will mention how they suddenly saw a butterfly that appeared unexpectedly after a loved one died. They appear without warning, and often they fly around a person. One friend told me how she experienced a head-butting from a butterfly one day. It was as though the delicate insect was trying to get her attention. It seems the butterfly is trying to communicate with a human. Butterflies arrive in pairs at times. I wonder if they are exceptionally bright and larger than life. Do they appear to be otherworldly, so that you could not possibly miss seeing them? In my experience, I knew for sure they were not of this world.
Traditionally, it is believed that butterflies are harbingers of renewal, transformation, healing. Since that day when I saw the butterflies, I began to use the motif in some of my artworks. It’s an ancient symbol, with deep roots as a metaphor in folklore and the narrative accounts of antiquity. Inspiration and ideas flow or surround us as we seem to stand in an invisible, yet powerfully present, landscape.
Many writers from a variety of cultural and religious backgrounds speak of the awareness of divinity they experience when they reflect on nature.
Throughout Christian history, there is a recurring theme of recognizing the work of God when we view nature. But we find this theme long before Christianity existed in the relics and objects left behind in antiquity by pagan cultures.
This theme is expressed by one of the most memorable hymns of all, “How Great Thou Art.” This example is found in the second stanza:
When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze;
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee,
“How great Thou art! How great Thou art!”
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee,
“How great Thou art! How great Thou art!”
People of all ages expressed thoughts about butterflies.
The Mandarin Chinese word for butterfly means “70 years.” Therefore, in their culture, butterflies are a symbol of a long life.
Japanese culture says the butterfly is thought to be representative of maidens and marital bliss. Many Japanese families use the butterfly image in the family crest design.
Germans’ unique belief is that butterflies can often be found hovering around milk pails or butter churns. The German word for butterfly is Schmetterling. This is one of my favorite German words. It’s actually derived from the Czech word smetana, meaning “cream.”
In literature we find numerous references to butterflies from ancient times to the present.
Traces of butterfly imagery are deeply ingrained in Western civilization. Ancient Greeks believed a butterfly was the soul of someone who had died. Their word for butterfly is “psyche.” Translated, it means “soul.”
Early Greek art features images of butterflies on vases. Butterflies are featured in their mythological tales. It is a recognition of the presence of a soul. We are more than a physical body; we possess a soul that is invisible and eternal. We can read from the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis, that humans were created to live in a beautiful garden and to tend it. We were created to be friends with God; we were made to live forever with God.
We can find references to the butterfly as a soul in the lore of Russia and Ireland. There, the butterflies are always symbolic of a celebration and resurrection.
One important aspect of Christian faith is the hope of resurrection. The symbol of the butterfly is an important image to Christians. You will find this image used particularly at Easter, when we think of the life cycle of the butterfly. We get the picture that signifies how Jesus was put to death, and after three days, He arose. Every person who has accepted Jesus into his or her life is filled with the resurrection power of Christ.
At Christian funerals and memorial services, there will usually be references to a butterfly as an example of how we all will shed our body at death, and then we will come alive again with Christ. Of course this belief is a familiar theme in almost all mythology. Resurrection is a recurring theme in many myths and cultures, as I have explained. I think all faith traditions embrace the butterfly as something very special.
Let’s take a look at 1st Corinthians and we’ll find a marvelous promise.
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
—1 Corinthians 15:42–44
Don’t be surprised if one day you see a shimmering butterfly flying around you in an unusual way. It could be a time when you feel helpless or broken, as I did. It may happen at a time when you least expect a visitation or are thinking that nobody cares about you. Just smile!
Heidi, our Sleeping Princess, remains free of ovarian and kidney cancers.
From the book: Walking by Inner Vision: Stories & Poems, DLD Books 2017
About the author
Lynda McKinney Lambert is a blind visual artist and author who lives in The Village of Wurtemburg, in rural western PA.
She is a retired professor of fine arts and humanities from Geneva College, in western PA.
In addition to her two published books of poetry & stories, she has just completed a full-length book, “Star Signs: New and Selected Poems,” which is now available for publication.
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Lynda McKinney Lambert invites readers into her world of profound sight loss to discover the subtle nuances and beauty of a physical and spiritual world. She takes strands from ancient mythology, history, and contemporary life and weaves a richly textured new fabric using images that are seen and unseen as she takes us on a year-long journey through the seasons. All stories in this book were created after her sudden sight loss in 2007 from Ischemic Optic Neuropathy. Lambert invites us to see the world with new eyes.
If you have had a strange experience or encounter that you would like to share, please get in touch with me at email@example.com (or my usual email if you already have it) and we can discuss a guest post.
I am not looking for sensationalism or fictional tales… but in light of the response to some recent posts, I think it would be both useful and reassuring to others to realise that none of us are alone in these strange encounters and experiences. Perhaps we can open discussion on what they may be or may mean…and each of us sees our own reality.
If you would like to share your story but prefer to remain anonymous, we can discuss that too. If you would like to share your beliefs and opinions on the nature of these experiences, I would be happy to talk about a guest post. Through sharing with respect we may learn to understand our world and each other a little better.
You can find previously published encounters with elusive realities here