A Caterpillar and a Tornado

July 5, 2020

Who are You?

This was the question the stoned Caterpillar on the mushroom asked Alice in Lewis Carroll’s, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  Alice didn’t know the answer, and quite frankly, it really didn’t seem to matter to her much. She knew who she was when the day began in her family’s garden as she peacefully nodded off, but then…. she followed the White Rabbit in free fall down a mysterious hole and everything changed: her size kept changing depending on what she put in her mouth. (a definite case of you become what you consume!) Her attitude and ability to effectively communicate with those who were not like her was condescending and judg-y. She might not have known who she was, but she knew she was better than those odd individuals in Wonderland! 

Ironically, though unsure of ‘who she was’ she was totally focused on self-preservation (does ‘off with her head’ ring a bell?); it seems that staying alive was more important than understanding the significance of the caterpillar’s question!  Until finally, at the end of the story, Alice awoke – back in the garden – alive – or was she? I wonder if she answered the caterpillar’s question, for unless we have know the answer – how can we truly live?

A similar bizarre experience happened to Dorothy, in L. Frank Baum’s, The Wizard of Oz.  Before the tornado seemingly destroyed her life and swept her (and her little dog, too) up to Oz, Dorothy was quite sure of who she was: Dorothy Gale from Kansas. And even after her crash landing into Munchkin Land, she was quite clear of who she was even though she was a stranger in a strange land (not ‘in Kansas anymore’). 

Her identity had been formed deep in her core thanks to the love and care of a remarkable couple, Uncle Henry and Auntie Em.  They loved Dorothy and taught her to love. The girl was precious to them – and she in turn looked for the precious in others. But this identity was left behind in Kansas, Dorothy’s identity that continued to unfold as she became a bold and compassionate defender of a scarecrow, a tinman, and a lion against the threats of a green witch and her flying monkeys who tried to destroy who each of them was. And in the midst of it all Dorothy was able to help her companions understand their own identities as precious, beloved, and unique – full of heart, mind, and courage! In spite of threats of tornadoes and evil – Dorothy continued to live into her identity and help others claim their own!

These are remarkable stories – there’s a lot of food for thought here – but before this blog gets reduced to a book report, I want to just pause and consider this pervasive matter of identity and the caterpillar’s questions even as the tornadoes of anger and chaos raging around the world threaten us with extinction:

Who are we?

What happens to our identity when we feel our lives are in freefall?

When life spins out of control do we operate from our core identity or focus on survival at all costs?

René Decartes once said “I think therefore I am.”  It sounded oh-so-deep and intellectual when I studied that French philosopher in college; in reality, thinking just validates the fact that we exist!  And thinking isn’t our core identity!  Who we think we are doesn’t always match up with who we actually are.

We may think of ourselves as the roles we play as – children, teens, adults, siblings, spouses, parents –but these roles change as we move through life; a temporary role in life is not a core identity!

Often the world thinks it can provide our identity: by our jobs, our net worth, our religious, political, cultural and national affiliations. However, those identities can go into freefall in the blink of an eye – just think of the tornadic chaos of the last several months and the impact of who the world says we are and who we say each other are!  These identities aren’t our core identities either! Oftentimes these externally applied roles can be death dealing and controlling! We begin to focus on surviving within at the bottom of the rabbit hole of the world’s making rather than living from our core. (Off with his head! I’ll get you, my pretty!). These are powerful forces – but they can only be powerful as long as we refuse to answer the caterpillar’s question, and allow the challenging storms of angry times to sweep us up and destroy us as we act in ways which are so contrary to our core identity! Don’t let it happen!

Who are we?

The answer is found in page after page after page of scripture!

We are each the unique, precious and beloved children of God.  

Let those three words sit with you a minute.  UNIQUE, PRECIOUS, BELOVED.

  • UNIQUE – no two of us are exactly alike – God created each of us in God’s unique image divine  (Genesis 1:27), (1 John 4:16)
  • PRECIOUS – each of us is worthy of being treasured and cared for – without exception (the parables of lost things in Luke 15)
  • BELOVED – dearly loved, not just kind of sort of loved, but dearly loved; so much so, that Christ came to earth to show us the depths of that love through His life, death, and resurrection. (John 3:16-17)

This is who we are! And nothing can take away our core identity! (Romans 8:34-39)

Especially in times like these, breathe that in that truth!

But here’s the thing.  Our core identity grows and defines us more deeply as we live ‘who we are’ in the world and impact the lives of those around us, affirming their core identity as well as this – all are precious, beloved, and unique.

Why blog about this?  Isn’t it just sappy nonsense?  I don’t think so – I think we have forgotten who we are – who everyone else is – and we are in a freefall.  The storms of these angry times threaten to destroy us. I think it’s time to think about the caterpillar’s question – and reclaim our core identity – and see it in the lives of others – we are all God’s precious, beloved and unique creations – and if God so loves all the world, how can we possibly refuse to do the same? 

Some have forgotten who they are, or perhaps they never knew!  It is our job and our joy, to remind them – and help them rediscover who each of them really is. How?  By beating them over the head with the scripture?  By judging them? By guilting them?  Not at all! Such behavior belies who we are. We are to seek out those around us and develop relationship – something which can’t be forced but comes of time, openness, patience, and trust – a trust shaped by time fending off the flying monkeys together! I am here to tell you, getting to be present when someone finally understands who they REALLY are – they just light up!

And to God be the glory!  AMEN.

Published by Pastor Catharine

Retired ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I have a Master's of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry (with an emphasis on Spiritual Transformation of Community) from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

One thought on “A Caterpillar and a Tornado

  1. Ever since I read this blog on Saturday, the question has remained in my mind (as well as the hookah smoking stoned caterpillar and the flying monkeys!) Thinking about who I am and how I define “me”, who I’m expected to be, who I appear to be, and who I was created to be – leads down a rabbit hole with many tunnels. Reflectively removing all the external labels, whether self-imposed or applied by others, and being reminded that God views me as unique (shows his sense of humor), precious, and beloved, frees me to see both myself and all others in a very different light.

    Thank you.


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