The Wee Butterfly and the Big Picture


As I walk along I’m always looking for things to photograph — things that may not be very important at first glance but which figure in the big picture.

We become aware of the strangeness of things when we stop to think about them. I am powerfully influenced by mystics like Julian of Norwich (Denys Turner’s book Julian of Norwich, Theologian is one of my favorite books), because they grant me reasons for paying attention to small indifferent things.

How can a little thing like a butterfly move me to wonder? Is there an aesthetic “law” that holds for inverse proportionality? No.Maybe. Who knows? But in such wee creatures we may experience an excess of beauty, and this excess, unexplainable in rational terms, prompting absurd wonder, depends “logically” on an infinite reserve of love we call ¬†for want of better names God-the-Creator.

It begins in wonder: that excess that makes us feel foolish watching a butterfly with rapt attention. But thinking about such excess we discover the idea of a reserve, a dark enigma, or fertile void — that idea central to the Zen poets of ancient China but also to mystics like Julian and (in due course) the Japanese poet Basho who studied the Taoist/Zen poets.

THAT Big Picture.

NB: For this way of putting it — excess/reserve– I am indebted to William Desmond, whose systematic philosophy of the metaxy is quite in sync with Julian’s insights into the life of the Trinity.

How imponderable

the lightness of the butterfly

as it rides the wind

Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at and other sites.

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