“Hi, I’m Worm.” Surely I hadn’t heard her right. It sounded like she said she was a worm.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. What did you say?”
“Worm. My name is Worm,” she said.
Worm. Her name is Worm. How is this possible? All night long I kept repeating those words in my mind. Worm. Her name is Worm.
We met at a dinner we were sharing with Underground Table, a creative dining experience that is off the grid. You join the group and at the last minute you receive details about when and where to go and a wonderful chef thrills you with culinary delights. You never know who will show up and part of the fun is meeting people you wouldn’t ordinarily have dinner with. People like Worm.
In many respects she reminded me of my sister Lorena. Like Worm, Lorena is a character who squeezes all the juice out of life, savoring each drop. She’s a warm-hearted soul and longs to be liked. And like Worm, my sister Lorena, also was given a nickname as a child.
We called her Butchie. The name originated with my father who had been hoping for a son and was blessed with a second daughter instead. Thinking that perhaps a son was never going to happen for him, he dubbed Lorena Butchie. I was about 10 years younger than Butchie and always thought that was her real name.
It took me a long time to start calling Butchie, Lorena, which was the name on her birth certificate and the one she preferred after she left home and began a life for herself. Dropping Butchie was the right thing for her to do. Besides the fact that Butchie is no name for a woman, it was a name given because she was a disappointment to her father. How awful is that? Can you imagine being referred to as Disappointment all your life?
Unlike my sister, as an adult, Worm continued to use the name she was given as kid. Although I found it deeply troubling, she appeared to be fine with it.
Ironically, I met Worm the week after Ash Wednesday. Through the years I’ve had increasing discomfort with the traditional Ash Wednesday liturgy because of its worm theology. That’s what many of us call theology that focuses on how unworthy we human beings are, worthless like worms who can only grovel on the ground and beg for mercy. I am not a proponent of worm theology, and yet, on Ash Wednesday, it’s hard to avoid.
This year, I finally re-wrote the liturgy we use for Ash Wednesday, removing the worm theology. Yes, we are still not living as the people God created us to be and we need to face up to that. But the emphasis is on the people God did indeed create us to be, and God did not create us to be worms. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a worm, if you happen to be one. But people are not worms.
Worm. Her name is Worm.
How had this become an acceptable name for her? She appeared to be at least 60 years old. Surely, in all that time she had had opportunities to change it. I am guessing that she enjoys the attention her name receives, which is something that also reminds me of my sister Lorena, who is never shy when attention comes her way. But really, what would it be like to go through life as a Worm? I can’t believe that it wouldn’t affect her in some deep, profound ways.
Although she is the only person I’ve ever met named Worm, I’ve known a lot of people who seem to think of themselves that way. Some of them are a part of my congregation. From time to time in my life, I have thought of myself as a worthless worm, as well.
It’s nothing new for people of faith to see themselves that way. Even the writer of the 22nd Psalm expressed this sentiment: “But as for me, I am a worm and not human, scorned by all and despised by all people” (vs. 6). Lord, have mercy!
Are we all worms? When we’re in the pits, it may be how we feel about ourselves. But is that who we are in the eyes of God?
I’ve come to see that worm theology is damaging to us as human beings. And it's an insult. Not only to us as people, but also to the One who created us. If there is any sin worth owning up to during Lent, it’s not that we are worthless worms. It’s that we see ourselves as worthless worms.
And so, even though she told me her name is Worm, for the duration of our evening together, I couldn’t bring myself to address her by name.