On meeting a black snake

Yes, I have been out day hiking on the AT again.  Three times, actually, because I’ve had the luxury of a full week of vacation.  

I have stood on a rock precipice and peered over the valley to ridges beyond.  I have walked under yellowing trees tossing their flames one by one into the chill wind.  I have sat beside a stream of the clearest water that becomes the glass coffin for leaves of red maple and brown oak.  I have walked softly on scented needles of pine through the gloomy maze of their dark trunks.  In the warmth of a noon sun, I have traced the path through a thicket playground full of noisy sparrows.  Hunched by a campfire, I have watched the moon, part shadowed, part light, rise while my legs, facing the fire, burned with heat and my back, facing the damp grass, shivered.  It has been a full week.

Oh, yes, and I met a black snake on the trail not too far, as I recall, from the thicket with all the small birds—a virtual grocery store for a snake.  I will not, however, let that fact cloud my respect for this creature.  Soon it will be hibernating in a rocky den in mountains that I love, perhaps one of the rock jumbles I had just finished climbing over.  At the moment I saw it, however, the snake was absolutely still.  Whether it was soaking in the sun, or waiting for a chipmunk to run by, or watching for me to leave it alone, I do not know. I circled it, took a few cell phone photos, and estimated its length to be five and a half feet.  It remained motionless all the while.  Without analyzing, without words, its snake thing to do was simply to hold one’s head up, be still, watch and wait.

The Psalms are well known for moving from the subject of creation and its Creator to the dilemmas of humanity.  I am going to make the same shift.  In my last post here I began reflecting on what it means to practice humility in our lives.  I’m not good at the humility thing, and in fact that was one of the things I was thinking about on this day of walking.  Then I saw the snake and eventually realized that an important quality of walking humbly is to be able to be still, hold one’s head up, watch and wait.

What might that look like practically speaking?  Instead of jumping to my own conclusions, listen to what another is trying to say.  Instead of charging ahead with my own plans to fix problems, waiting in prayerful stillness to see what God might be suggesting.  Instead of first following my own interests, also looking to the interests of others (a paraphrase of the apostle Paul).  Instead of becoming defensive in the rightness of my own view, listen for the truth in what others are saying.

Why, in the face of a towering two legged creature, did the snake know to choose stillness over slithering away under the dry, fallen leaves?  Perhaps a herpetologist could answer that question.  But let me guess that true humility can remain still, wait and watch because it is curious to know and respect the other; it values the other as much as itself.   In some cases humility is the strength that gives itself for the sake of the other.  Isn’t that at the heart of the good news of what Jesus did?  And if so, then why as followers of Jesus, aren’t we better at listening and waiting?