A caterpillar is a fine creature. God could easily have made these funny, fuzzy worms and left it at that. But God had something else in mind. I believe he had in mind a living metaphor for you and me…a graphic and beautiful natural parable of transformation.
A caterpillar has something in it that won’t let it simply stay a caterpillar. It has what are known as ‘imaginal cells.’ Imagine that. Imaginal cells. These cells are the seeds of transformation. They are actual cells that vibrate to different frequency than the normal caterpillar cells. They contain different information about what that insect can be. These are the butterfly cells.
But there’s a problem. When these imaginal cells first appear in the caterpillar, the caterpillar resists them. The caterpillar’s immune system actually attacks them. It thinks these seeds of transformation are actually a disease.
But the imaginal cells are not easily done away with. Why? Because they are the true purpose of the caterpillar. They are the intended nature of the caterpillar. So they keep popping up. And eventually enough of them band together that the immune system can’t stop them anymore. Before long they grow to the point where the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly can’t be stopped.
That’s when the caterpillar stops fighting, wraps itself in a cocoon…a chrysalis…and let’s the imaginal cells take over. They feed and grow.
What do they feed on? They feed on the caterpillar itself. The old thing becomes this nutritional soup that nourishes the new thing. And once that happens…butterfly.
Every one of us has within us ‘imaginal cells.’ These are the seeds of transformation that reflect God’s best for us…God’s plan for our fulfillment…God’s unique intended purpose for our lives. But just like the caterpillar, we can find ourselves fighting against those cells. The demands of our current life…the scars of our past…the false image we have of ourselves, laid on us by others…they often work hard to defeat the growth of our God-given potential. We fight against wholeness.
For you and me to realize our wholeness…our God-intended shalom…we need to support the seeds of transformation. We need to invest in helping them grow.
You may be thinking, but my habits are too strong…my demands are too overwhelming…my hurts are too deep. And while it’s true that those things may be extremely powerful, they need not stand in the way. In fact, just like with the caterpillar, those things can actually become the food that helps grow the new butterfly into being. Even the negative things in our lives can help us achieve shalom. That’s the truest meaning of the passage in Romans that says ‘God works all things for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.’ If we invest ourselves in God’s purpose, even the worst stuff in us becomes transformational nutrients for the fully alive person God wants us to be.
Imaginal cells. The word imaginal doesn’t stem from the word imaginary or imagination. I’m not saying we should drum up something in our imagination and then pursue it. I’m a fan of imagination…don’t get me wrong…but when it comes to becoming whole as God defines wholeness, this is not left to our imagination.
Imaginal is actually based on the word ‘imago.’ It’s a Latin word that implies exact likeness. In the book of Genesis, God told us something about imago. He said let me make humankind in our own image. The Latin phrase for the image of God is ‘imago Dei.’
The seeds of transformation in each of us…our God-given imaginal cells…are meant to fulfill in us the imago Dei. The image of God. Fullness, purpose, power, peace…shalom.