So we have a snake in the church garden.
A little garter snake. Not likely to kill anyone on its own unless human stupidity is involved. Garter snakes are actually quite beneficial to gardens, eating bugs and worms, and are not venomous.
I discovered our resident while inspecting some dead branches of a shrub. I noticed one of the beaches seemed striped.
"Odd," I thought, then leaned in.
This leaning in bit will almost always lead to more information than you might want to know. Thus, I discovered a snake.
I grew up in the country, so I have a healthy respect for snakes. They don't send me into apoplectic fits, mostly, but I don't want one as a pet. I'm a big fan of snakes who respect boundaries - they stay in their spaces and stay out of mine.
We humans, by and large, are unsettled by snakes. Not a rational fear, mind you. Most snakes are not venomous. Snakes are quite beneficial to the ecosystem, even the poisonous ones. We in the United States are much more likely to die by a spider bite than a snake bite. Maybe we blame the whole serpent in Genesis bit to explain our fear of snakes, which is fair. Except that we forget that the serpent is also used by Moses to heal those who are dying (in a rather mysterious passage). The snake is a long-held symbol of life, death, and resurrection. If you've never read anything on the mythology of serpents in the Ancient Near East and the detailed use of serpent and the vast span of meaning in Holy Scripture, I commend the reading to you.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not a snake apologist. They are slithery and silent. They startle us with their presences. They nestle in dark places and seemingly wait for us to discover them in a moment of unsettling surprise. They mostly live below our range of vision or drop out of nowhere from tree branches. They sit in our paths as we're walking or hiking in the woods, causing us to stop in a moment of panic. And even when they aren't present in living color, they leave the skin they've shed as a calling card. I get the creepy factor.
While I'm sure some people love snakes (although I've never met such a person), most who don't flee in fear from them have at best a healthy respect from these creatures that are, quite honestly, embodiments of mystery and awe in our natural world.
Pentecost will be upon us in a couple of weeks. We will commemorate the day the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples of Christ and celebrate the birthday of the Church. And we will do so with pomp and circumstance and joy and lots of images of doves.
Yay! Holy Spirit!
We see the Holy Spirit like a dove, something lovely and calm, softly caressing our souls into the life of discipleship. Cooing to us in a soothing song, suggesting perhaps, maybe, if it's not too disagreeable or inconvenient, that we follow the love of God.
I wonder if we would be wise to remember also the unsettling feeling of the Spirit as a snake: surprising, mysterious, a bit fearful, even shaking our very selves. As we dig through the gardens of our church meetings, conventions, and days in our normalcy, may we encounter the Spirit, probably jumping backwards as we realize we've just stumbled upon the Holy Spirit, curled up and waiting to strike us in love and sending us forth into the world.
The Holy Spirit is not only sweet and cuddly. She is a presence who disturbs us, shakes us, and reminds us that the breath of God blows over us, changing us and daring us to live fully into the Gospel. And living into the Gospel is almost never always sweet, soothing, and nice. Nor is the Spirit always rational. After all, Christ's love is not rational. It's lavish and unsettling and surprising. The Holy Spirit is rarely convenient, and She's not a fan of extended committee meetings that go on and on, delaying the life of ministry. She drops out of a tree into our path, fills us with adrenaline, and move us. MOVES US into living the Gospel.
So next time you see a snake, remember it, too, is part of God's creation. And perhaps has something to say of the mysterious and disconcerting aspects of the Spirit.
Here's hoping as we dig through the weeds of our churches, we come upon the Spirit, coiled and waiting, to move us into action. Here's praying the Spirit will cause us to lean in and be surprised with what we see. Here's praying, "Come Holy Spirit," will allow us not to be as terrified as She drops from above into our lives.