My kids caught an obscene number of tadpoles this week. The fattest tadpoles I have ever seen. They look like little green egg yolks — the very definition of plump (which is a word that sends my boys into gales of laughter).
Our friends who are hosting us hauled an old fish tank out of the basement, and the tadpoles have been living there, cozying up to some pond weeds that my nine-year-old rightly insisted they needed for survival. They’ve been scuttling around the hazy water for far longer than I expected they would. And they’re starting to sprout legs.
Metamorphosis is one of their vocab words this week (#roadschool). While doing a little research on the life cycle of the frog, we read an explanation of metamorphosis that noted, “Tadpoles look nothing like their moms.”
When the gills change into lungs, when feet sprout feet where fins once were, when an animal whose world was all water suddenly can only breathe on dry land, it’s like changing to an entirely new species.
Metamorphosis is also a Biblical word. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians uses it, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed (metamorphoo) into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”
Turns out we don’t look anything like our mom, either. We need a veritable species change — glory upon glory — for us to start resembling our creator.
Walter Brueggemann said in a 1992 sermon on this passage, “It may be a temptation to want to be transformed into the dominant images of our society and imagine it is the gospel — more winsome, more clever, more competent, more ambitious, more secure. You can hustle around and achieve, because we here are all high achievers. But that transformation finally will not do, because it is in truth not what our life is about. The transformation that counts is to embrace our oddity as creatures of God.”
I spent time this weekend with some old friends, each of us approaching midlife in our own bumpy ways. We shared the same struggles — how to balance the demands of work and family, of significance and rootedness, of making an impact on the world and taking some from the ones we loved most. I wonder which of those are the oddities, and which are the things we imagine are gospel.
I look at those tadpoles and wonder if their sprouting legs feel strange. I wonder if it hurts. I wonder if they panic when the skin starts to grow over their gills. I wonder if they can imagine a life outside the water.
“The crucial news of this staggering possibility… is that God is at work and we are being transformed, being acted upon, being addressed, cared for, suffered over, bothered by the very power and purpose of God,” says Brueggemann.
“For this comes from the Lord, the Spirit,” says Paul.
A gift. A mystery. A grace.
Glory upon glory.