Last Saturday afternoon, on my way down the mountain to fetch the mail, I noticed a black swallowtail (Papilionidae) sipping nectar from cardinal flowers blooming on the slope beside the upper driveway. The bright red trumpet-shaped blossoms of lobelia cardinalis, rising from the dark green spiked foliage, attract hummingbirds and butterflies and count on them for pollination. Above to the left of the cardinal flowers is my square foot garden abuzz with bees doing similar duty with good results: a bounty of tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers.
Cardinal flower nectar is toxic if ingested in large quantities, a fact which is oddly disillusioning. Yet the bad-tasting toxin protects swallowtails from predators—birds and lizards, unwanted animals in my garden. Swallowtails also feed on animal feces, which to my mind seems oddly disillusioning, too.
But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person. John 2:24-25
This morning, I copied the following excerpt from a reflection based on the above scripture into my journal: “…the disillusionment that comes from God brings us to the point where we see people as they really are, yet without any cynicism or any stinging and bitter criticism. Many of the things in life that inflict the greatest injury, grief, or pain, stem from the fact that we suffer from illusions… According to our thinking, everything is either delightful and good, or it is evil, malicious, and cowardly.”
Swallowtails challenge me to give up my illusions of their perfect, delightful goodness. As caterpillars, they feed on plants, such as their favorite host Queen Anne’s Lace, growing in our meadow, and carrot-family plants like the parsley I grow in a pot on the deck. Individually, a caterpillar does minimal damage; but, in large numbers, they can strip leaves from plants, causing them to die. No disillusionment about that unless I refuse to think about it when viewing a lovely swallowtail.
Another excerpt copied from the same reflection: “Refusing to be disillusioned is the cause of much of the suffering of human life. And this is how that suffering happens— if we love someone, but do not love God, we demand total perfection and righteousness from that person, and when we do not get it we become cruel and vindictive; yet we are demanding of a human being something which he or she cannot possibly give.”
Swallowtails pollinate and destroy. Lobelia cardinalis nourish and poison. The same could be said of humans.
I pray for freedom from deception and misconception, false impressions and judgments. Jesus did not place his faith in people yet never gave up hope for us. May we follow that path of disillusionment.