Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Genesis 3) transports me to our fenced in chicken yard, which I was cleaning out a few weeks ago for our next set of chicks (and as it turns out, one rooster) to make the move from the basement box to the great out of doors. After shoveling a truck load of compost material out, I put in new straw, and was in the midst of spreading some of the straw inside the little laying house, when something above me caught my eye. When I looked up, I was eye to eye with a relatively large black snake, inches away. Our eye contact lasted only long enough for old snaky to stick a tongue out and flick it at me. One loud yell of goodboogalooga later, I was out of the coop and outside the fence, a safe distance away, where I regained my composure enough to have a heart to heart talk with snaky, in a calm voice. I explained that my adverse reaction shouldn’t be take as a sign of ingratitude for its presence around the house, since it had done a good job taking care of mice. But we just couldn’t have it eating the eggs once the chickens started laying, so something was going to have to give. Snaky listened politely, and slithered off down a hole without giving me a response, presumably pondering my warning.
This is the Year of the Snake in the Asian Zodiac, so it seems a fitting experience to have had a face to face conversation with a blacksnake. It’s the stuff of dreams and nightmares. The serpent, as Jung and his followers have demonstrated, is one of those cross-cultural archetypes, something respected as well as feared, symbolizing wisdom and sexuality, and as we learned from that very first Year of the Snake experience dramatized in today’s passage, a seductive temptation to evil. Mother Eve didn’t seem to have any fear of her talking snake; there was no loud goodboogalooga scream echoing through the garden. There was conflict, however, this time over the poaching of fruit, not eggs. The serpent does seem to be advocating a wise course of action, when you think about it – why would the Creator not want those created in the image of divinity to have knowledge of good and evil? Such knowledge seems to be among the low-hanging fruit when it comes to essentials for human life. We’re not given the answer to that why question, and at the end of the day, God has a heart to heart with the serpent, cursing old snaky for this crafty behavior, consigning it to a revolting life of belly-slithering and dust-eating, forever being trampled on by frightened humans. We have no record of snaky’s response, and can assume it went slithering off down a hole to ponder the curse.
Insofar as the serpent does represent the archetypal positive energies of wisdom and sexuality, as well as the negative seductions to power, we humans continue to have this mixed relationship of revulsion and respect with our snakes. Jesus, after all, encouraged his followers to cultivate the capacity for serpent-like wisdom, even as he empowered those same followers to trample the serpentine forces they encountered. The archetypal first humans discovered that the desired knowledge of good and evil exposed their own precarious vulnerability, something they quickly tried to cover up. It reminds me that our essential experience of human freedom exists only because snaky convinced humanity to take a bite of the knowledge of good and evil. We are most free in the presence of the serpent, when we have the capacity to choose life over death, generosity over greed, respect over bigotry, peace over violence, love over hate, mercy over judgment, knowing the whole time that the opposite choices are equally within our grasp. Such freedom makes for a vulnerable life, exposed in ways that fig leaves could never hope to cover. Every time such choices present themselves, which is to say, every day, we might just see something moving out of the corner of our eye, and if we look, we might just see a tongue flicking out at us. If it happens to you, I recommend letting loose a resounding cry of freedom – goodboogalooga! and carry on with your decision-making.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.