“Transformation Towards Racial Justice” by Nancy Marstaller

From a message by Nancy Marstaller in October, 2017

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discern what God’s will is—God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

Transformation was the themeof yearly meeting this year. I was blessed to be able to attend and want to share a story from that meeting that has stuck with me.

Friend Xinef Afriam retold us the familiar story about a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, but added new information that I didn’t know and that gave us a whole new view of transformation- both for caterpillars and for humans. I was so intrigued, I looked up more about this when I got home.

As we know, after a time of eating and eating, a caterpillar finds a place to make a cocoon or chrysalis. Imagine the monarch butterfly caterpillar, which makes the wonderful J shape and spins its gold-decorated chrysalis around itself. But it’s not as simple as we think. There are cells, which are dormant in the caterpillar and called “imaginal cells.” It turns out that before hatching, when a caterpillar is still developing from an egg, it grows an imaginal disc for every adult body part it will need- such as eyes, wings, and so on. In some species, these imaginal discs remain dormant throughout the caterpillar’s life. In other species, the discs begin to take the shape of adult body parts even before the caterpillar forms a chrysalis or cocoon.

When the imaginal cells are awoken from dormancy, at first they operate independently as singlecelled organisms inside the caterpillar. They resonate at a different frequency so are regarded as threats and attacked by the caterpillar’s immune system, which digests some of them. But they persist, gradually multiply and grow stronger. The caterpillar’s immune system can’t keep up and the caterpillar digests itself. The imaginal cells survive, forming clusters and clumps. Because they resonate at the same frequency, they can communicate. They connect and become a multi-celled organism – a butterfly is formed!

What really struck me was that the caterpillar at first resisted this transformation, which got me pondering about how humans change.

There is a hymn we don’t sing often but did recently. The first verse is, “Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, in the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side. Some great cause, some great decision, off’ring each the bloom or blight, and the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.” It terrified me as a young child. I worried that I had missed the moment, that somehow, I had chosen for evil, that I was doomed. As an older child, I felt our country had chosen for evil, that we had been slaveholders, didn’t give equal rights to all, were killing innocent civilians in Vietnam. But I also believed that there is that of God in everyone, meaning we could change, be better.

Now I realize that for most of us there is no one dramatic moment, but constant moments of choice throughout life in which we can choose right or wrong, better rather than worse. One of the ongoing discussions at yearly meeting and among many of us in our country is white supremacy. I feel like I am called to do something about overcoming it, and currently that is mostly reading. When talking with people of color at yearly meeting and hearing their stories, I was saddened and angered by the ongoing overt and structural racism that pervades our society. How one mother feared for her dark-skinned middle-schooler to go downtown in Castleton, Vermont, worrying what could happen just because of the color of his skin. Something I never even thought of as a mother of a fair-skinned boy. I am learning how privileged my life is in ways I have taken for granted – I don’t worry I will be discriminated against in any aspect of life because of my whiteness and that is SO different from the experience of many others.

So, I am praying, hoping, and visualizing that the “imaginal cells” that seek racial justice, that seek to do what is right, that seek to do God’s will, are growing within myself and within society. May we resonate at the same frequency, communicate and grow stronger, so that together we can bring more peace and justice into the world.

I’ll close with a passage from Psalm 19, to which I’ve added a line: O let the words of my mouth, the meditations of my heart, and the transformations of my life be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord.

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