Stricken with an autoimmune reaction to something she picked up on a trip in Europe, Elisabeth Tova Bailey lies bedridden. A friend brings a life-changing gift: a pot of wild field violets into which she placed a common snail. In her beautiful book, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, Bailey records thoughts and snail observations from a single year in a two decade illness.
Exhausted by the slightest exertion, Bailey’s life shrinks down to white walls and a terrarium inhabited by a snail, who eats square holes in envelopes with its approximately 2,600 sharp little teeth. In her small, quiet world, Bailey can hear the snail eating. She orders through the library a twelve-volume set: The Mollusca. Too weak to sit up or hold a book, she props a volume against other books and turns her head to read about the amazing mollusk that co-inhabits her confinement.
The bibliography in Bailey’s small book is seven and a half pages. You’d be stunned to know how many poems have been written about snails or what spicy research papers are buried in academia. Bed-bound, Bailey read “Twitching and Quivering of the Tentacles during Snail Olfactory Orientation,” “Spool and Line Technique for Tracing Field Movements of Terrestrial Snails” and “Why Slugs Squabble.” A broad and fascinating mollusk-world opened to her in her constricting illness.
Unfortunately, often the only way the Lord can slow us down is through serious illness or crisis. Our lives are rarely snail-slow or quiet. Our inner lives reverberate like popcorn popping or fire works exploding. Lots of bright and interesting sparklers compete for our attention. So we train ourselves to hydro-plane over the tops of things at mach speed. We hurry. We may never get to Pinterest if we linger too long on something else.
I wonder what I might learn about Jesus if my gaze lingered and ripened? What mysteries of life in Christ might I live more fully if I hushed distracting voices? What choices are within my domain that I might better live the mystery?
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).