He’s standing frozen, statue-like. A squirrel scampers unheeded up his legs while he gazes starry-eyed at a sunset. Now he’s pacing down the path and counting to himself, numbering the one hundred forty steps he takes every morning on his walk. He reaches a cliff and absent-mindedly strolls off, tumbling ten feet yet landing unhurt and lost in daydreams.
Clutching two rare beetles in his hands, he notices a third that might prove an undiscovered species. In his eagerness to snatch it, he pops into his mouth one of the insects he is holding and cries out as its poison stings and spreads.
Spotting him, nobody would guess he is a genius. Or that his scientific findings will one day change the face of modern biology. He stammers too much, tangling up his sentences. He’s tricked every time by the many pranks his friends target at him. He claims he is too slow to follow an argument. And even his biographers describe him as a slow and simple man.
He knows he is famous. People have reminded him of this many times, and he likes walking up to receive his medals and awards. Yet whenever he writes letters, he still worries his friends will consider him a nuisance. And he feels frightened and confused when some stranger out in public calls his name. He does not understand that people can recognize his face from pictures.
Outwardly he’s become rich and successful—but in this state he’s driven to despair. Plagued by stomach cramps and nightmares, growing sick at large parties where he finds himself unable to match faces to names, he hides in the secluded realm of his country home. It’s the little things in life that bring him pleasure: flowers, sunsets, earthworms, horses, dogs. The stories his loving wife reads him every night. The cute sayings of his sons and daughters when they were small, which he faithfully records in his journals.
Observing him, nobody would see him as a villain. As a champion of the strong over the weak. Or as a man we Christians aren’t supposed to like, because history has pegged him as one of our faith’s greatest foes.
He enjoys music too much, including hymns. He believes too persistently in God. He loves his wife and children with far too much devotion. He’s a bit too kind and friendly to everyone he meets—including the mental patient he once tried to spring from an asylum. And including his servants—except when he catches one whacking at a horse.
Yet my fellow believers often claim his theory is a lie straight from the devil. Why then, when I study it, do I see the fingerprints of my Creator? The miracle of God creating much from very little. All us living beings springing forth from one small cell—like the many loaves and fishes spoken forth from the lunch of one small boy. And random chance transformed into God’s holy mystery, producing variations we humans can’t predict. For like the beggar entering Heaven’s Kingdom before the rich young ruler, the earthworm and amoeba have survived the savage saber tooth and the great T-Rex.
A year before his death, Darwin wrote a book celebrating the fitness of the earthworm. This most unassuming species is blind and deaf and mute. It has no brains or limbs, no teeth or claws or poisons or any known means of self-defense. And yet it survives and brings life to all the rest of us by its enriching of the soil.
Its wondrous ways lent Darwin no end of fascination. Whenever he visited Stonehenge, he had no eyes for the towering monuments of humans. His gaze was fixed upon God’s most humble creations, the least likely among nature’s survivors.
As he studies the castings of those worms among the stones, I study this scientist with no less fascination. For he too numbers among God’s least likely chosen ones. Awkward, shy, eccentric, flicking his fingers and bound by his routines, he reflects for me the patterns of my own mental condition. Autistic tendencies were shared by many great scientists and artists, who often spent their lives lost in the fissures between their genius or their fame. Their joys were reserved for obscure, hidden things, simple enough to enchant any child.
I may never, like these great ones, become a household name. But I still can share our delight in simply being . . .while taking in with starry eyes our Creator’s flowers, worms, and sunsets.
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