From the Goldfields:
From the Goldfields: Snake
by The Revd Elizabeth J Smith | Senior Mission Priest, Parish of The Goldfields
If the image is a bit grainy, it’s because I was not going to get close enough to the snake to take its portrait in high definition.
I have a healthy respect for snakes. I know there are many in the bush where I walk each day, although I see them rarely. One slithered across my path recently, and for a couple of days I gave every dry branch on the ground a second look, in case it was more serpent than stick.
I worry about irresponsible dog owners who let their pets off the leash in the park. It only takes a moment for a curious dog to put its nose into the clump of grass where a snake is minding its own business – and it’s goodbye to the family’s best friend.
After a recent First Aid refresher course, I invested in the special constrictive bandage designed for snake bite first aid. You put a pad at the site of the bite, and start winding the bandage upwards from below the bite. And the bitten person doesn’t move a muscle until help arrives.
The Bible has several snakes with stories to tell. There’s the talking, tempting, tricky serpent of Eden. There’s the bronze serpent that Moses made as a visual antidote for the wilderness wanderers who were being bitten by snakes. John the Baptist memorably calls his listeners a nest of venomous little snakes. And Jesus tells us to be as wise as serpents when we go out into the wicked world.
So I choose to think of our desert snakes as wise, rather than malevolent. Their venom is wondrously complex. They can survive extreme heat and cold. They avoid becoming prey to hungry eagles or bigger lizards that would like a snake for dinner.
What is snake-like wisdom going to look like for me, as a follower of Jesus in the Goldfields?
Wisdom means choosing my spiritual niche carefully. In the religious ecosystem of my community, I represent an unusual and fascinating God. I live alone yet am willing and available to listen to everyone and to talk to all and sundry. I do my work with historical consciousness, multicultural awareness, and complex theology. No over-simplified spiritual sweetness here, but rather a relishing of depth and diversity.
Wisdom means knowing my limits. I can’t re-write the sadder and more distorted bits of parish history. I can invest deeply in the handfuls of people who are most open to learning, However hard I work or pray, real change in individuals’ lives and in the Church is the Holy Spirit’s job. And the Spirit is far better at it than I will ever be.
And wisdom means remembering that love makes up for most deficits. My energy may be low, my creativity patchy and my frustrations spiralling – yet if I get up each morning and choose to love the people, in all their strangeness, Jesus will find a way to meet them; and a way to meet me, too.