“Eating Worms”or Gardening with Gratitude!

By Sophy Burnham ——–While working in the garden, I began to muse on how humans are the only animals (at least that we know of) who can live in both past and future. True an earthworm has a one-second precognitive response before it’s cut in two [1], and to that extent we can say the earthworm “sees” the future, but we humans are truly creatures of imagination. In our minds we leap from crag to crag like alpine goats, one moment experiencing fear of an unknown future, the next reliving despair, dismay, delight or regret, and then anticipation of a loved-one’s return. This led me, as I planted poppies of a particularly brilliant red, to consider what seeds I sow in my imagination, and why they yield so often the flowers of worry, fear, rejection, disappointment in my perfectionist ambitions, or worse self-critical dislike? Put another way, why is it that often I don’t trust. Trust God. Trust life. Trust the grace that pours constantly into my days., unfurling at my feet.

When I was a child, I took a pleasant melancholy in indulging in what my mother used to call “eating worms.”

“They’ll be sorry when I die,” I would think with tragic delight, and I would imagine my parents standing at my graveside regretting their harsh reproof or wishing they had been nicer that day to me. I might even shed a tear for the poor abandoned orphan of my imagination – until, my heart springing up with childhood’s vigor, I’d wander out to the kitchen to kick my heels on a stool, chattering while my mother cooked.

Who taught me such self-indulgence? Even as an adult, I’d allow this self-deprecation, until it dawned on me one day that this was one of the things that led to my depressions (certain foods was another), and that this was one garden that I should not tend.  Yet, even after this epiphany, I’d find myself entranced by the Garden of Rejection. I saw it a behind a white picket fence (similar to the one around my current summer home), with flowers so inviting, their perfume so enticing that I’d step inside, promising myself – ONLY FOR ONE MOMENT!   I would push open the gate –and instantly be lost. Sometimes I might not find my way out for days! And in the mean time I was subject to all shapes of self-dislike, dejection, rejection, and the violence of an Inner Judge gone  mad.

One day, unexpectedly, accidentally, I would stumble back out the gate—free!  “I’m never going there again,” I’d promise.  And then a few months later I’d find myself once more at the mercy of this habit of my mind.

Why? Why is my mind so ungoverned and apparently ungovernable? Why do I find it so hard to trust the Universe (as I call God).  Hasn’t my whole experience of more than 80 years taught  me that this Mystery wants more and better for me than I can ever imagine? Doesn’t the history of 4000 years, doesn’t the Bible proclaim the love of God —even for little me?

  Not long ago  I saw a fascinating exhibition, now touring, of the human body, in which every skeleton is real, each red muscle is dried and stretched over bones, and the organs of heart, spleen, lungs, liver, guts are each one true, not plaster casts; the blood vessels, so numerous that you see nothing but red in the shape of a human, are finer than silk thread; and governing the whole, is a brain no larger than could be held in my two hands.  It is fascinating! Did you know that we have no muscles in our fingers? That the heart beats 3 billion times in an average lifetime, that our jaws crush each bite with 200 pounds of pressure (a crocodile’s jaws snap with 2000 crushing pounds), that a newborn has 302 bones, while an adult has only 206; and when we die, the body, dissolving, is composed of only 11 atoms.

 Eleven atoms?

And where in this is Thought? Where is emotion? Where is love, courage, patience, gratitude?  Where are the nine fruits of the Spirit, that St. Paul lists in Galatians: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?  To his I add courage, patience, generosity, gratitude, optimism, truth. Or where is the reverse – the other seeds we sow—of hatred, fear, violence, despair, prejudice, bigotry, fear, fear, fear. Where do they reside?

I rock back on my heels in the summer garden that I like so much, and creakily stand up, giving thanks (trowel in my hand) for the gift of this garden, thanks to Nature that springs forth so abundantly, to Beauty that I had nothing to do with except to notice, to Life itself that surges upward and will NOT be killed.  In my experience all things have been given me, not necessarily when I wanted them but coming by grace later, when I’m not even thinking about them.

“Look!” I cry. “I remember wanting that! And it has come to me. By itself.”

In the words of St. Julian of Norwich, “All will be well, and all will be well. All manner of thing will be well.”

“Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten you,” wrote St. Teresa of Avila. “All things are passing away.  Patience obtains all things… Whoever has God lacks nothing. God alone suffices.”


[1] The Art of Intuition, by Sophy Burnham, page 35.  Earthworms travel in herds. Humans have a three-second window of precognition.

©️ Sophy Burnham, 2019.

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