by John V. Carlson, M.Div. 

It was one of those sultry August days too hot for cutting the grass, but somehow not too hot for golf. Somewhere on the back nine l was sitting in the cart waiting for my playing partner to hit, and it happened. On black wing spotted with dots of a vivid blue a butterfly skimmed through the air and made a perfect landing (ls there any other kind for a butterfly?) on the shiny white cabretta leather of my new golf glove. 

Only later did I realize that here was a metaphor for the spiritual nature of encounter, of risk and trust and acceptance. For in the butterfly’s gentle descent was at once all the reluctant fragility of a frightened soul’s search for help, as well as the tenderness of one whose very presence is itself healing. Likewise, l myself felt like a safe haven for the weary traveler which had entrusted itself to me, and like a host who had been blessed by his grateful guest. 

Then, in the few seconds allotted to view this common but elusive creature, I beheld what most of us don’t see as one flies past us: there were the thin but sturdy legs that are its means of transport when not airborne; there were the scientifically miraculous antennae, the natural on-board computer charting directions and warning of danger; there, too, the strangely unattractive head and face which offer an almost unsettling contrast to the stunning beauty of the wings. There, too, was encapsulated the experience of seeing another as a whole, or of getting a glimpse into how another thinks and operates, or of gaining access to the vulnerability of another individual. 

And the moment seemed intended for me alone. As my golf buddy finished his shot, l spoke his name and pointed to my silent visitor. Of course, the spell was broken, the encounter complete; as quickly as it had come, the butterfly departed. And how well do we as pastoral counselors know the wonderful, painful truth that our most precious experiences will have to be kept to ourselves. Because of confidentiality, we are destined to bear alone both the sadness and the joy we hear, all stored inwardly in the mosaic of our own spiritual growth. 

Thus did this wordless exchange become a metaphor for the mystery of encounter captured in a single instant, a facet of ministry embodied and explored. And yet, the moment was real before it was symbolic; more than anything else, a gift, as are all spiritual encounters, meant to be treasured but not possessed, experienced and then let go, as quickly as a butterfly takes wing. 

John M Carlson is a Pastoral Counselor at the Counseling Ministry at Oaklands in Laurel, Maryland, a Presbyterian Church USA minister and a Member Certified of AAPC. 

Reprinted from:
John Clark Echols, Jr., MDiv, LPCC

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