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Worms or Wonders?


Two young girls squatted at the edge of a small flower bed just outside my office door. The 4-H club meeting at the church had concluded. Adults were cleaning up or chatting inside. Amused, I asked the girls if they were pulling weeds for me. One chubby-cheeked cherub lifted her hand bearing a reddish-brown accessory and said, "Nope! We're digging up worms!"

She then, with adult-like seriousness, informed me of its name. What do you say to that?! I told her I wasn't aware that worms had names. Then the other angelic youngster chirped: "We have chickens and chickens like worms! I had a whole bunch of them, but they died." For dramatic emphasis, she scrunched up her cherubic face and I giggled.

These flower beds are chock full of earthworms. If I disturb them - and inevitably I do as I dig up the roots of weeds - I apologize and baptize them anew with rich soil. The world is filled with wonders, is it not? And we are the crown of creation! The top of the line! Just a notch below the angels according to Psalm 8. But I have a hunch most of us go through our days feeling more like worms than wonders.

Humility is an important virtue in a human being. It wards off arrogance and keeps boasting at bay. But if it is not balanced, it turns corrosive and will reduce a wonder to a worm unnecessarily. That happens when we misunderstand humility to be self-debasement. Humility is simply an openness to learning. It's recognizing that we don't know everything. We don't have it all together. Humility is like loose soil riddled with worms. It can receive the rain. It welcomes the warmth of the sun. Humility nurtures growth.

Eugene Peterson published a pithy volume titled Subversive Spirituality in 1997. In it he describes the importance of returning to what he calls Square One. The core. The foundation. The starting point. Square One = God Speaks. He writes, "When we first arrive at Square One, we are breathless before the unguessed splendors of infinity, stretching out endlessly. That is wonderful. And then we begin to realize the corollary, if there is such a thing as infinity, I am not it. I am finite. If there is God then there is no room for me as god." Peterson continues by describing two potential responses to this experience of Square One: narcissism and prometheanism (I had to look that up!). The first is a retreat from the wonder of Square One to focus only on becoming the most magnificent worm one can become. The second is an attempt to detour Square One in order to control the wonder, manage it, use it as if we can master it.

Then the good Dr. Peterson asserts, "The primary way in which we counter our stubborn propensities to narcissism and prometheanism is by cultivating humility. Learning to be just ourselves, keeping close to the ground, practicing the human, getting our fingers in the humus, the rich, loamy, garden dirt out of which we have been fashioned. And then listen."

And isn't that a wonder? To be still. To listen. To stop our incessant talking for a while. To trust that God is communicating. Something. Somehow. Because God wants to. And because we ourselves are wonders, not worms. Limited, yes. But loved, oh yes!

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