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Disheveled Theologian: Beware the fanged worms

When I lived in West Berlin, West Germany, in the late 1980’s, I attended Berlin American High School. The school was comprised mostly of the children of military personnel, but there were also a dozen or more “Pan Am” kids like me, as well as quite a few diplomats kids filling out the ranks.

The diplomats kids came from many different countries, and some of them had to make the trip every day from East Berlin, through Checkpoint Charlie, and over to our school in the west. There was a girl from Yugoslavia (I’ve often wondered about how she fared in her country’s civil war), Egypt (I know he’s OK because he’s on Facebook) and Thailand (again, he’s a Facebook friend) as well as several others. But the one who stood out the most to me — and yes, I’m in touch with him all these years later via social media — was a boy from Norway.

This boy had lived in India when he was a child. One day, when he was out playing in the yard of his home in India, he came across a creature. A small, worm-like creature. Being an inquisitive boy, he decided to pick it up.

It was fascinating, this little animal! In his excitement at what he had found, he ran, carrying the creature, into his house, wanting to share his find with the household.

“Look! Look!” he cried as he ran, “A worm with teeth!”

People came running to see his find.

And then the servants began to scream.

“No! No! That is not a worm with teeth! That is a baby cobra!”

The boy dropped the tiny snake and he, miraculously, was unharmed. Baby snakes, I have since read, have very potent venom. If he had been bitten, he most likely would have died.

My friend told his story with a laugh. But everyone who listened shivered, eyes wide, at the tale.

Whenever I remember this story, I can’t help but think of Isaiah’s prophecy:

“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Isaiah 11:6-9

While my friend did not usher in the future kingdom of God by somewhat fulfilling Isaiah’s words, his story sure does provide a lovely picture of the world to come. The lion and the lamb will lie down together. Wild bears won’t chow down on domestic calves. Small children will hang out with baby vipers.

Or, as Julian of Norwich said, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

The world is a messy place. But someday all shall be well. Someday we’ll hold the “worms with teeth” and fear no harm. Someday.

For now, we’ll carry on and wait for the day when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.”

There are days when I can hardly wait.

Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is