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.

Kate Kooyman

Kate is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who serves in the Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

9 Comments

  • Eric Van Dyken says:

    Thoughtful reflection, Kate. Thank you for offering it.

  • Daniel J Meeter says:

    Delightful. You’re a natural writer.

    • Emily Brink says:

      Amen to that, Daniel. Thanks so much, Kate. I loved this; your writing filled me with wonder all over again that change is still possible, no matter how old and set in our ways we sometimes become. Thanks be to God who never gives up on us or his world or his plan of new creation.

  • mstair says:

    “It may be a temptation to want to be transformed into the dominant images of our society and imagine it is the gospel … The transformation that counts is to embrace our oddity as creatures of God.”

    Thank you for this great citation. I could have used this at last night’s Bible study amid their reticence to accept the simplistic mystery of The Word as stated – in favor of the latest “interpretive finding in light of our lives today … “

  • Fred Mueller says:

    Evocative about what God is doing with us and so hope-filled!

  • Grace Shearer says:

    Thank you for this provocative article. It brought back memories of my own youth catching tadpoles and watching their transformation. Thanks for helping me think differently about God’s work in me. I appreciate your writing. You and your family are in my prayers as you traveling.

  • James Hart Brumm says:

    A lovely piece, especially when we remember that the word translated “transformed” when Paul uses it is the same word which is translated “transfigured” in the gospels in reference to Jesus. We are expected, nay even created, to become what God’s Son has become. Your sons’ tadpoles also help us make the connection to what CS Lewis said about us being spiritually amphibious creatures.

  • RLG says:

    Thanks Kate, for this article that speaks of transformation. I guess you could be speaking of God’s work of sanctification, which most Christians think of as being a life long process until we reach heaven when that transformation will be completed. This sanctification can also be seen as being set apart as unto God, away from sin and unto holiness.

    The problem, as I see it, there is precious little of this transformation taking place in the lives of Christians. Christians, on the whole, are no more moral than that of non Christians. Divorce is as prevalent in the church as out. Materialism, and the lack of concern for the poor is approximately the same in and out of the church. Those in church leadership (especially men) are increasing accused of sexually abusing women, whether in thought, word or deed. That’s why we have a “safe church” group on the lookout for sexual abusers in the church. The church is as divided over the homosexual prejudice issue as those who don’t go to church. I could also mention the evangelical movement in its support of sin to accomplish what it sees as a good ending. I suppose we can each pick some area in which we think we are growing in our morality, but so can those outside the church. We all are growing and learning from our experiences in life. But the truth, as I see it, is the church is doing no better at this transformation. Christians are definitely unlike the tadpole turning into a frog. So if the Bible hints or says that transformation is radical, you can be sure such transformation doesn’t measure up to reality. Or maybe such transformation is just wishful thinking. Thanks again, Kate, for your perspective. I guess we all see the realities of life and religion differently.

  • Barb Van Noord says:

    I loved this! So hopeful and such a reminder of God’s grace as we move through our lives.

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