What do you think is going on inside cocoons right now? Here in the early days of warmer weather, edging toward spring, we know that all of nature is preparing for a new chapter of life, a new season of growth and blossoming just ahead. Some spring flowers are already poking green shoots up into the sunlight—some of our early perennials are doing just that in the beds by the back door. We’re beginning to hear more birdsong in the early mornings, and if you look closely, you’ll see the tiniest little leaf buds beginning on the maple trees in your yard. Deep underground, tree roots are probably preparing for another season of moisture gathering and chlorophyll making. But inside cocoons—hidden from our view—some of the most profound transformation is taking place as moths and insects go through a dramatic metamorphosis that will change their whole form, from chubby always-hungry caterpillars, for example, into lovely, free, colorful moths.
Last week, as most of you know, I took a few days off because there was a situation in our family that needed addressing. One of my kids was going through a crisis and my reaction at first was great fear, and then unrelenting worry, followed by more fear. I prayed, I made plans, I did all I knew to do, but still the fear and worry wrapped itself tightly around me. I was having trouble eating and sleeping. I felt immobilized, overwhelmed with upset, and powerless to do much except pray. I can tell you; that’s a terrible place to be.
During those early difficult hours and then in the days following, I felt a strong pull inward, a yearning to really, truly, deeply listen to God. I didn’t know what God might say or do, and I wasn’t completely sure I understood the impulse, but it was different than me simply saying to myself, “Oh I need to pray,” or “Oh, I need to get quiet.” It felt like Spirit was drawing me inward, like a magnet. It was all I thought to do, all I wanted to do, the only thing I felt could possibly help. So I took a few days off to follow that leading and my only plan was to rest, pray, and study about God. I wanted to find something deep and true about God that I could hang on to, an idea that would calm my heart, bring clarity to my mind, and maybe show me how to pray in a way that would be truly helpful.
We all experience times in our lives when circumstances are just too big for us to handle, when we don’t know what to do, when we are afraid or worried for our loved ones and aren’t quite sure what might make things better and what could make things worse. We can feel frozen by big and scary challenges, and that’s when having a clear thought of God, knowing what God says is true—about us, about our loved ones, about our circumstances, about life—is vitally important. It can give us a place to rest, establishing a clearing, a safe and quiet cocoon, in the midst of all the swirling emotion and upsetting outer circumstances.
One thousand years before the birth of Jesus, in the Psalms, King David wrote about the clear thoughts of God he’d found in his own experiences. His trust in God was absolute, deep, indestructible. He’d been through everything with God—fights with giants, assassination plots, wars with neighboring countries, and perhaps most devastatingly, facing his own shortcomings, his own selfishness, his own sin. We can hear how much David had come to trust and depend on God:
O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
You understand my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down;
You are aware of all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
You know all about it, O LORD.
You hem me in behind and before;
You have laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go to escape Your Spirit?
Where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to the heavens, You are there;
if I make my bed the depths, You are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle by the farthest sea,
even there Your hand will guide me;
Your right hand will hold me fast.
It’s obvious from this passage that David believed what we still say is true about God today: that God is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient. Omnipresent means that God is everywhere, always; there is no place—no city, no neighborhood, no house, no human thought or human cell—where God is not. You can hear David say this when he writes, “You are there—in the heavens, in the depths—there is no place I can go outside of your presence.”
Omnipotent means that God is all powerful and not only that; God is the only power. God is power itself—the power of life, the power of love, the power of truth, the power of goodness, all wrapped up in the Oneness and Goodness of God. This is a power beyond the limits of time and space or anything we bump up against in our daily lives. “All things are possible to God” fits here, and it’s true—all things are possible to God. God’s omnipotence guarantees that there is nothing that can stand against the power, the will, the love and purpose of God.
Omniscient means all knowing—real knowing, true knowing, beyond anything we grasp with our limited human minds that divide things and judge things and so often see shadows with monsters lurking there. Our minds separate, but God is One. With holy vision, God knows that all creation works together in harmony for the good of everyone and everything. God sees it, knows it, and loves it, all that God created and continues to create, everything extending in love—on earth as it is in heaven. In my prayers, I yearned to see us as God sees us, to know our goodness and innocence and wholeness as God’s children, to be able to trust that God truly does have a good plan for every one of us, the whole world over. It’s a universal law—God’s love pours out to every single life of God’s creating. That’s Who God is. That’s what God does. As I prayed with those simple, foundational ideas about God, the dense fog of fear that had gripped my mind and heart began to lift.
As you explore these ideas yourself, you’ll discover how important it is to examine what we believe deeply about God, because those ideas flow into our experience and shape what we think is possible for us and for our world. The implications are profound. For example, if we believe that God is truly omnipotent—all powerful—and the only real power in the world, why do we spend so much time in fear? Why do we watch shows about frightening things and react so strongly to personalities in the news? Why is so much of our time consumed with looking into the shadows and fretting about the villains we see there? If God is all powerful, and if we trust God like David does, what, truly, is there to fear? What power are we envisioning that could possibly disrupt the purpose of an all-good, all-powerful, all-loving God? That’s a good place to begin if we have a lot of fear in our lives. God will give us a new understanding and adjust our perspective, if we ask.
If God is all knowing, why do we work so hard at figuring everything out, being in control, staying on top of things? If we trust God’s view and know Christ’s light is leading us, we don’t have to work so hard to sort out all the confusing and chaotic and frightening images we see. In my situation last week, it was impossible to see clearly. There was so much emotion. Every person I talked with had their own ideas and reactions and feelings. How could I hear what was true and real? I knew I had to turn inward for that. I said, “Tell me what’s true, Lord, about You, about us, and about this situation.” And God did that, gradually—I had just pieces of new ideas at first, really, followed by hints of a new perspective. That developed into a more solid realization that showed me God was acting in love for us all, right where the fear and upset had seemed to be. As I spent time with that new view God was helping me see, my trust grew and my fear lessened.
In the book of Matthew, Jesus gives us a beautiful lesson in how to pray. It may be one of the most important passages in any of his teachings. Because he’s not simply telling us about God or teaching us how we should behave with one another in the world. Here he’s showing us literally how to reach God, how to know God better, how to understand God the way he did, as the Father of all good, everywhere, across all time.
Jesus begins by cautioning the disciples against praying for show, trying to look pious and holy so others in the synagogue and on the street will admire them. That’s not what prayer is for. He tells them God knows what they’re doing—their motives are obvious and they won’t get any result beyond a little self-pride for their efforts. Jesus tells them the real way to pray, the real way to reach God, is to go within—he said, “into your room” but it might also be “go into your heart” or simply, go “inward,” and—this part is important—close the door.
Our cocoons need to be sealed so the transformation can take place in our minds and hearts. Close the door on fearful thoughts. On social media. On outward noises. On the opinions of others. Close the door on everything the world or your past or your fears for the future might tell you. Close the door so it is just you, quiet, alone, yielded, listening to what God has to say about the need or worry or fear or symptom that is so much on your heart. That is real worship, real communion. We emerge from those moments with a renewed sense of how great God is, how much God loves us, confident that we are all divinely cared for and truly never alone.
In this passage Jesus gives us the model for a perfect prayer: It is not wordy or pleading; it doesn’t offer its own opinions of what should happen or give God advice on what needs to be done. It is simple, respectful, and reverent. It puts things in right order: God as our Father, and us as God’s loving, listening, trusting children. The prayer begins with that acknowledgment, that God is the source of everything in our lives, our Divine Parent, the author of all that unfolds.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven tells God that we want God’s governance in our lives—we want to rely on God’s wisdom and care. If we mean that when we say it, we’re setting aside our own agendas and plans, and not telling God what we want or how we think God should govern the world. Thy will be done is a powerful statement that aligns our murky view of situations with God’s perfect knowing and love and power. That can bring change, inside and out.
And that is why our daily needs are supplied—give us our daily bread—and why it’s important that we forgive one another and release all the emotional debts, the resentments and judgments we hold against others. How can God’s good governance, the Light of Christly love, draw us into the kingdom of God within us when we still have hard places in our minds and hearts? It doesn’t work that way. At the end of the prayer, Jesus says, “…if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” It’s not that God wants to punish us for our lack of forgiveness but that God’s love simply can’t flow—from one to the next to the next—when judgments block the love we could share, blinding us to that of God in each other and putting an obstacle in the flow of blessing God pours out to the world.
Praying about God’s love as a universal law uplifted and encouraged me. I felt myself praying with and for worried mothers all over the planet. Together we called in God’s love, God’s grace, God’s goodness and Light for all our children everywhere. I claimed the goodness of God’s immediate presence, loving and speaking to every heart that needed God’s encouragement, love, care, and renewal. I called on God’s omniscience—God’s knowing—to bless everyone everywhere struggling with circumstances that were too big for them, problems that were too much for them, or who had answers they couldn’t see or wounds that wouldn’t heal. I knew God had their answer—and mine.
After working with these ideas consistently for several days, a prayer bubbled up that brought a peace that lasted. And I’m glad to say that later that afternoon, things in our situation began to stabilize and are now improving steadily day by day, all evidence of God’s goodness and love at work. My prayer that morning was something like:
If God has ever helped anyone, God will help you.
If God has ever answered any prayer, God will answer yours.
If God has ever lifted any burden, God will lift yours.
If God has ever brought peace to any heart, God will bring your heart peace.
The purpose of a cocoon in the natural world is to provide a safe and protected space where a caterpillar goes through a tremendous and a profound metamorphosis, literally changing from one physical state to another, so it can continue its life with beauty and freedom, no longer constrained to crawling along the surface of the world. When we go deep with God and give ourselves that safety of spirit, God will transform us, too, healing our fear as we turn inward to find for ourselves God’s truth and love and wholeness. We’ll emerge with a higher view of things, no longer tethered to the twigs and leaves of daily experience. And our lives—as well as our circumstances, our families, and our world—will begin to take on the heavenly colors of the kingdom we’ve found.
- OT Psalm 139: 1-10
- NT Matthew 5: 5-15