You will have heard of the wonderful way in which silk is made–a way which no one could invent but God–and how it comes from a kind of seed which looks like tiny peppercorns . . . When the warm weather comes, and the mulberry-trees begin to show leaf, this seed starts to take life; until it has this sustenance, on which it feeds, it is as dead. The silkworms feed on the mulberry-leaves until they are full-grown, when people put down twigs, upon which, with their tiny mouths, they start spinning silk, making themselves very tight little cocoons, in which they bury themselves. Then, finally, the worm, which was large and ugly, comes right out of the cocoon a beautiful white butterfly. (Teresa of Avila: Fifth Mansions: Chapter 2)
I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (Jesus)
The silkworm awakens. It feeds on mulberry leaves. It spins a cocoon. It “dies”. It then becomes a butterfly. Teresa says, “Now if no one had ever seen this, and we were only told about it as a story of past ages, who would believe it?” And who’s going to believe someone enters into mystical prayer for 20 or 30 minutes and God transforms him or her into a new creature?
Teresa compares the transformation of a silkworm to the Prayer of Union. Like the silkworm eating mulberry leaves we can listen to sermons, read good books, and practice meditations. We can spin our silk into a cocoon (Christ) where we “die”. We renounce “self-love and self-will, and our attachment to earthly things”. Teresa alludes to Colossians 3, “for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” She goes on to say, “When I say He will be our Mansion (Cocoon), and we can construct it for ourselves and hide ourselves in it, I seem to be suggesting that we can subtract from God, or add to Him. But of course we cannot possibly do that! We can neither subtract from, and add to, God, but we can subtract from, and add to, ourselves, just as these little silkworms do. And, before we have finished doing all that we can in that respect, God will take this tiny achievement of ours, which is nothing at all, unite it with His greatness, and give it such worth that its reward will be the Lord Himself.”
Spiritual disciplines can feel like wasting time. Renunciations can feel like wasting life. But when done with humility instead of religious ambition, they will be united with His greatness and He will be our reward. I encourage you to eat the “mulberry leaves” and “spin your cocoon”. The threads from your cocoon will be made into something beautiful and you’ll find great freedom — in fact, you’ll be able to fly.
For Silkworms and Butterflies Part Two: click here
For Silkworms and Butterflies Part Three: click here