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Previous: 19. Fishes Up: The Language of Parable Next: 21. Leaf, Flower and Fruit

20. Insects

A great variety of little creatures come to mind, crawling, flying, buzzing. There are caterpillars which eat the green leaves so greedily, which afterward hide away in chrysalis or cocoon, and by and by fly about as bright butterflies or moths, sipping sweetness from the flowers. There are the hungry locusts and grasshoppers which have less beauty, and which in some countries come in clouds devouring every green thing. There are the industrious bees which fly about with their busy hum gathering honey for their hives. There are flies which are attracted in swarms to any sweetness or to any unclean thing. There are stinging and biting creatures too, which annoy us and exhaust our patience.

The most highly developed insects, in their mature state, have wings and remind us of the birds as they flit about among the flowers. But they are much less noble creatures than birds; they are feeble things and not highly organized; they seldom fly high, but are attracted from one object to another, and are much at the mercy of the winds. The birds correspond to the affections for thinking spiritually; for thinking of human life and the principles which relate to it. The insects must also correspond to affections for thinking, but of the most trifling kind. A thousand thoughts flit through the mind, suggested by what we see and hear, turning lightly from one attractive object to another, or blown here and there as if by chance. Thoughts of this kind, closely connected with the impressions of the senses, are first developed in little children, and they are plenty in our minds. (AE 543) Some of these thoughts are lovely; some are vile. Some, like insects which will not be driven away from the sweet they love, persist in keeping before the mind a fascinating scene, or a tune which we have heard. The trifling enjoyments in thinking of these passing impressions, are the insects of the mind. (AC 9331, 7441) The insects are food alike for birds and fishes and serpents. So the thoughts springing from the impressions of the senses may give rise to spiritual thoughts, or may be mere Matters of scientific interest, or may minister to the love of sensual pleasure. Thoughts of beauty, for example, silently spoken by the flowers, may minister to spiritual thoughts of the sweet graces of human character and of the perfect goodness of the Lord; or they may be valued only as increasing our knowledge of certain species of plants; or they may simply gratify our love for pleasant impressions.

In a general way it is easy to classify these insect thoughts. Some of them delight in beauty. They love to see and recall the beauties of nature or of art, or beauties of speech and manner. They delight to picture even the outward beauties of heaven. Such affections for thinking of beauty are lovely mental insects. They seem like butterflies and moths which in their colors express such pure delight.

You know that most insects go through stages of development before they gain their wings, often beginning life under water or in the ground. Even the butterfly at first was only a caterpillar. Then he could not fly, but was busy eating and growing, preparing for his more free and happy state. So if we wish to enjoy the highest beauties in painting or music or nature, or of any kind, a season of patient study and usually also a season of rest and silent growth, very like the hungry caterpillar and the quiet chrysalis, must come first. The change from the caterpillar to the butterfly is to every one a symbol of resurrection. Strictly, it pictures the change from the stage when from desire to enjoy beauty or grace of some kind we diligently study and practice it, to the stage when the enjoyment of it is spontaneous. The grandest example of this change is in our going from earth to heaven. (TCR 106, 12)

It is interesting to remember that silk, the beautiful material which we use for clothing, is supplied us by one of these little creatures which represent our enjoyment in thoughts about grace and beauty. Our enjoyment in thoughts of what is naturally beautiful and graceful finds its highest use in furnishing lovely clothing for the spiritual life. (AE 619, 1144; AR 773; AC 7601)

Think next of bees. "Busy bees" we call them, humming about from flower to flower, loading themselves with pollen and honey and flying in a "bee line "for the hive, there to leave their burden and return for more. They show their abhorrence of idleness by stinging to death the drones. They show a wonderful instinct for system and order in the regularity of their combs, and in the government of their hives. (TCR 12) Contrasted with the butterflies, the bees are built for work, while the butterflies are formed for beauty. The bees picture the enjoyment not in thoughts of beauty but in thoughts of order and of practical usefulness. Flowers are signs of approaching fruits, which represent good works. (Chapter xxi) In these the mental bee finds sweetness. He is impatient with disorder and indolence, and has a sting ready for every drone or for any one who interferes with his business. (AE 619)

You will at once think of other insects - wasps and hornets - which are less noble than bees, and seem really to enjoy giving pain with their stings. And is there an enjoyment - evil, of course - in seeing the weak points in others and reproaching them in a way to cause them pain? It is "waspish " to take such delight in causing pain, especially when it is done by petty misrepresentations. (AC 9331)

Then there are the flies, which linger so persistently about sweetness, and gather also about everything unclean! Plainly they picture the enjoyment of the thought in hovering about some pleasant scene, till perhaps it interferes sadly with our usefulness; or in dwelling upon some evil and unclean thing in spite of our persistent efforts to drive it away. (AC 7441)

There are locusts too, large brown grasshoppers we should call them, which in some countries are so destructive. When their army is devouring, it is said that the sound of their jaws can be heard a long way off. Locusts have not the beauty of butterflies; they have not the order and busy usefulness of bees, but enjoy eating every growing thing, almost, it seems, for the sake of destroying. They are however used as an article of food by the poorer people in the countries where they are plenty. These hungry creatures picture the enjoyment of seeing and hearing all that is going on - an enjoyment innocently active in children and becoming almost a passion with some people. The thoughts formed from these hastily gathered impressions are very superficial and are usually untrue, but the mental locust is content, for he has no real desire for truth. Locusts and grasshoppers are many times mentioned in the Bible, and they always correspond to affections for thinking in a superficial way, from the mere appearance of things, sometimes with a good purpose, but more often for the sake of perverting the real truth. (AE 543; AC 7643; AR 424)

In Isaiah, contrasting men with the Lord, it is said: "It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers." (Isa. xl. 22) It is especially the littleness and superficialness of man's thoughts which is contrasted with the Lord's perfect wisdom. (AE 543)

"And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the land of Egypt for the locusts, that they may come up upon the land of Egypt, and eat every herb of the land, even all that the hail hath left." (Exod. x. 12-15) Remember that the plague's of Egypt were but outward expressions of the spiritual state of people who care only for natural knowledge and natural pleasures. The locusts, which darkened the land and devoured every green thing, picture the affection for thinking from mere impressions of the senses, which destroys all real intelligence. (AE 543; A. C- 7643; AR 424, 430; TCR 635) Much the same is meant by locusts in the Revelation. Smoke was seen arising from the bottomless pit; "and there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth; and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power." (Rev. ix. 2-7)

We read of John the Baptist, that "his meat was locusts and wild honey." (Matt. iii. 4) John, we know, taught the plain rules of right and wrong from the letter of the Word. The locusts which were his food represent the affection for learning and thinking these external, superficial truths of heavenly life. Here we have the locusts in their best sense. (AE 543, 619; AC 9372, 7643)

The wild honey takes us back to the bees, which are affections for simple thoughts of busy, orderly, economical usefulness. The honey which John ate represents the sweetness of the thoughts of usefulness from the letter of the Word. Honey is very often mentioned in the Bible; and it means the pleasantness of simple thoughts in regard to usefulness. (AC 5620; AE 61g) "How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" (Ps. cxix. 103) The words of the Lord are compared to honey because they afford such abundance of sweet thoughts of use. (AE 619) The land of Canaan is called "a land flowing with milk and honey." (Exod. iii. 8) Canaan represents a heavenly state of life. Milk, we remember, is instruction in practical uses, and honey, we now see, is the pleasantness of simple thoughts of use. (AC 6857; AE 619) We are reminded of the honey found by Samson in the carcass of the lion. (Judges xiv. 5-9) It represents the enjoyment of thoughts about sweet uses of charity, which refreshes the soul when with the Lord's help the persuasion that empty faith is salvation has been overcome. (AE 619; see Chapter xvi)


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20. Insects

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