Born to Fly
Born to Fly: A Handbook for Butterflies-in-Waiting
by Margaret Silf
London: Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd., 2018
160 pages. CAD$17.96, GBP£8.52, USD$17.99
Reviewed by Linda Douty
One of the most potent and frequently used metaphors of the spiritual journey is represented by the transformation of a greedy grubworm into a soaring butterfly—
through the darkness of the chrysalis, of course. However, spiritual leader and author Margaret Silf explores this pathway with a depth that reveals profound insights not typically considered. Her treatment of the metamorphosis process looks not at personal growth but expands into the wider context of nations and societies. Indeed, her ideas reach into the spiritual evolution of the entire cosmos.
Silf asserts that we were “born to fly,” engaging with this adventure in our real lives: “Can our caterpillar existence as human beings on planet Earth really be transformed into something wholly new and yet already present deep within us? How can we cooperate in practice with this dynamic of transformation and metamorphosis?” (9–10).
The seed of this amazing magic is found in the imaginal cell, the deepest blueprint hidden within each of us, much like the spark of the Divine or kingdom of heaven described in religious traditions. She writes: “The future we long for already lies within us, awaiting its birthing time…. The way this future grows up will be largely shaped by us who have birthed it, whether this is a new-born child or a whole new stage of our human and spiritual evolution” (17).
The first part of the book describes this process, informed by the classic wisdom of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest and philosopher, whose famous theories of spiritual evolution were presented in the early twentieth century. An important question arises in Silf’s mind: “Will the future simply arrive, forcing itself upon us, or can we shape that future by our own choices” (10)?
In Part 2, the author reviews the stages mapped out by the journey of a butterfly from the darkness to the light of the great beyond. First, our known existence crashes with a massive meltdown into a state comparable to the chrysalis. Though the caterpillar has no real agency in this process, Silf reminds us that as human beings we have choices that influence how this change takes place: “We can, through our response to the situation, tilt the world a little bit towards truly creative transformation” (69).
In this stage of disenchantment, we have the opportunity to shed outgrown attitudes of narcissism and exclusion, personally and globally. Through vulnerable questioning of ourselves and society, we can somehow redirect this negative energy into creative, rather than destructive, channels. Silf leaves no prisoners in this provocative look at obvious darkness not only in ourselves but in our religious and political institutions. Though she honestly examines the signs of chaos, she clings with faith to the hope of new life. “There is a recurring message in Christian scripture that a seed has to die and disintegrate so that the new life it contains can be released. This is pure chaos theory in ancient teaching” (105).
This book is ideally suited for serious group discussions or group spiritual direction. Its chapters are brief enough to be digestible, and each section ends with thought-provoking conversation starters. The reflections are divided into “Personal Implications,” “National and Global Implications,” and “Spiritual Implications.” The hopefulness of Silf’s masterful work shines through in her final inspirational words: “On this journey we will encounter both wasps and wildflowers—deadly threats and great blessings. We commit ourselves to support each other through the hazards and share the blessings…. We rejoice that, though we are still immature caterpillars fighting each other and the rest of the forest for survival, unheeding of the harm we cause, nevertheless we hold the future within us, and from the moment of our hatching, we were born to fly” (158–159).
Linda Douty is a spiritual director and retreat leader living in Memphis, Tennessee, USA. She is the author of several books, including Rhythms of Growth: 365 Meditations to Nurture the Soul, Praying in the Messiness of Life: 7 Ways to Renew Your Relationship with God, and How Did I Get to Be 70 When I’m 35 Inside?: Spiritual Surprises of Later Life. Her e-mail address is LindaDouty@aol.com.