Hop. Jump. Tiptoe.
A three-year-old girl had a tricky walk into St. Paul Lutheran church a few Sundays ago. Earthworms had surfaced from the night’s rain. How do you navigate a sea of earthworms blanketing the sidewalk when your legs are extremely short? Well, you hop and jump and tiptoe. Those are your best options, short of getting mom or dad to carry you. My little friend mostly hopped, eventually making it into church grateful that she had not murdered – okay, so she doesn’t know that word yet – a single earthworm.
Spring is an explosive process. One day you see dead mulch; the next day there are crocuses in front of your nose. Your favorite birds may be vacationing in Mexico, or some place where they don’t have to put up with meteorologists pointing at ominous maps of arctic air, when suddenly a 15-degree rise in temperature brings a whole symphony of birdsong back to your feeder. Spring explodes in colorful ways.
Earthworms arrive more subtly, though. They don’t barge in on spring with noise and bluster. They don’t show off their horsepower. They just appear in your driveway after a rain and dare you to hop, jump, and tiptoe around them instead of acting macho and steering your 3,500-pound metal machine right over their soft, cylindrical bodies.
My little friend ponders similar things. She asked where worms come from. She knows they don’t fly in from Mexico, and grasps that they live in the soil. But why on this day, or any day, do they surface?
I can answer that without even being a helminthologist. (You can skip over that word.) My high school biology experience with worms was memorable. While I never figured out why dissection class began with worms (except that they’re cheap and slimy enough to acquaint students with gloop and guck), I learned plenty.
One theory for why earthworms surface when it rains is that they migrate distances this way. Think of how tough it would be to move through dirt or mud if you were an earthworm. The sidewalk must feel like a freeway in comparison.
Another explanation for their surfacing on moist days is that when rain pounds the ground, earthworms get a bad vibe. Their skin receptors confuse the vibration of rain with the digging of their archenemy, the mole. Frankly, that sounds like torture. If a mole were coming at me underground, I’d scramble for the surface too, even given no time to put my clothes on.
The final reason I remember hearing, for why earthworms surface in the rain, is that they breathe oxygen through their skin. When the soil gets waterlogged, they need to breathe. So, they come up for air. I don’t know if this is really true. But it sounds plausible.
Here’s why we’re talking earthworms: I think the earthworm’s condition offers a metaphor for faith.
I want the joy of Easter – that would be the power of the empty tomb – to be my impetus for going places I normally would not go. I want to migrate more considerately toward people who need me, or whom I need, for the sake of adding more goodness and perspective to our lives.
I regularly make note of how excess fear in people’s lives stifles their freedom and creativity. Some fears are legitimate. Attending to them is wise. Plenty of other fears and conspiracy theories do nothing for our well-being. There is no value in confusing falling raindrops with an imagined predator.
Finally, I want the church, and all that it represents, to be oxygen for lives that are suffocating. If you are tired of your own self-centeredness … or your friends are weary from hearing you repeat your opinions … or if you sense the drawbacks of twisting God to fit what you find convenient instead of molding your life to reflect the Lord’s better way … or if you are simply feeling spiritually dry … then let the spring rains help your faith resurface.
You can hop, jump, or tiptoe through the St. Paul church door. The Lord will be inside, ready to see if you smell sufficiently like dirt.