One of the perennial delights of living in Grand Rapids
is access to Meijer’s beautiful botanical gardens, and from March 1 until April 30th, 60 colorful species of butterflies bloom in the 15,000 sq. ft. tropical conservatory, which is kept at a luscious 85° with 70% humidity so you feel a rush of warmth every time you enter, no matter what’s going on outside! We’ve been at night and during the day, but unless you enjoy flashlight hunts and sleeping butterflies, a bright, sunny day is by far the best option. In unclouded sunshine, the butterflies are dancing everywhere, and if you wear brightly colored clothing, they’re apt to light on you
just in case you taste as delectable as they look! Usually, our times searching for butterflies is pure bliss,
but this year, there is another ongoing exhibition that counterbalances the joyous uplift of butterflights with the broken-hearted reality of suffering and captivity.The artist is Al Weiwei, a Chinese activist who was arrested in 2009 (and had the presence of mind to take his own photo, which he later tweeted to the world!). In 2011, the Chinese authorities took his passport so that he couldn’t travel. Once he was beaten so badly that he was unable to go to court to testify. During his house arrest, he bought and photographed beautiful bouquets of flowers as a silent protest against his captors, a practice that he continued until his passport was restored on July 22, 2013.
Perhaps his most provocative sculpture is a vibrant collection of twisted rebar, commemorating the many children who were killed during an earthquake. Reading his story made me think of many Christians who have been similarly persecuted for their faith, not only in China but around the world. As humans, we are born to be free—as free as butterflies!
However, just like humans, not all butterflies are completely free! When we leave the tropical conservatory, each person is carefully examined to make sure no butterfly has landed on them and will end up outside in the cold.Of course, we don’t think of it in terms of their freedom being limited,
because we know they couldn’t survive the freezing nights outside. We think they’re being protected, but the butterflies don’t know that! They flutter happily wherever,
with no apparent sense of direction besides sipping nectar.
My heart aches for Al Weiwei and all who are unfairly persecuted and confined. But, I am also exercised to think about those who wander off in an attempt to “escape” all contraint (like the butterflies who flit outside on a freezing day). Sometimes we’re like those butterflies, totally oblivious to how carefully God has provided a safe environment, mindlessly wandering away from warmth into an exhilarating, freezing freedom which cannot sustain life. In our flights and fights for freedom, let’s make sure we’re fighting for what promotes health and life rather than what will destroy us. “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32, NKJV). “Show Your marvelous lovingkindness by Your right hand, O You who save those who trust in You From those who rise up against them. Keep me as the apple of Your eye; Hide me under the shadow of Your wings” (Psalm 17:7-8).