I think it was too much yoga. After I read the lesson, I accidentally bowed to the congregation instead of the altar. You get done with yoga, you bow. I usually bow at my laptop, since that’s where my yoga instruction is coming from. No one at church seemed to notice that I had bowed in the wrong direction. I laughed at myself and turned around and bowed at the altar, too. I had wanted to laugh during the reading, too. It was the story of the Israelites complaining in the wilderness because they are “sick of this miserable food,” and God in response sending them a bunch of poisonous snakes to bite them. “You think that’s bad?” God says. “Hey, it could be worse!” It’s just one of Old Testament God’s myriad violent, wacko methods of communicating with his favorite people. Old Testament God’s got a lot of personality and a wicked sense of humor– I’ll give Him that.
I was feeling very writerly last year, as I got one big acceptance letter, and a couple of “we like you very much” letters. This year, the first three dozen rejections I was really okay with. It was the fourth dozen that made me start thinking, “Damn, that smarts.” There’s that rejection, and then other times, the low-grade fever of being single, wondering if dating was a game of musical chairs. All this time, I thought it was more like a Cake Walk, and I’ve just been walking and keeping my fingers crossed when the numbers get called.
This weekend I was my own gardener, civilizing the grounds of the mansion. The poor trees and bushes and dead leaves don’t have any opinion of me. They willingly get themselves snipped and raked and rearranged and pulled up and out. They accept whatever I have to offer. Three hours and I had a new flower bed, a pile of leaves so large I’m a little afraid the rats of NIMH will move in (there’s already an electric line running out to the mansion that they could so easily tap into with their preternatural intelligence), and my sidewalk was revealed again for the first time since last summer. The bushes along the driveway now look more British than blighted.
Many empty cigarette packets and bus transfers went into the trash, many empty Styrofoam cups, and I found two empty economy sized wine bottles you know weren’t mine (Chardonnay). I rebagged some of the wildlife-nibbled veteran trash, produced by people who are long gone. I’ll be meting that out to the landfill, three bags a week, for quite a while.
As with every exploration of the mansion, I made discoveries (well, rediscoveries): we have a woodpile! It’s half buried in six inches of leaves. I didn’t need to buy that firewood after all. And in our shed, there are cement blocks for the edges of my new flower bed, and enough replacement tiles to replace half of my roof, even though, based on my observation of Roman buildings, this won’t be necessary for at least another hundred years.
Sometimes people tell me they are impressed by my discipline, writing all the time. The truth is, I can’t help myself. I feel weird going to sleep without brushing my teeth, and I feel weird if I don’t write. I’d rather get praised and loved and paid for writing stuff. I’d rather not get rejection letters. And the exhausted people lost in the desert would rather not get bitten by poisonous snakes. That’s life, though.
God tells Moses to make a sculpture, a bronze snake, and hold it up. People who look at the bronze snake will not die. It’s a strange story all around, strange enough that you know it is ancient. Clearly Israelites should not be making representational artwork—they will leave that to the Greeks. And you know they barely tolerate the presence of physical objects as part of their worship, lest they accidentally worship idols. They just got busted—or are about to– for that golden calf business.
Make the snake, though, Moses, and hold it up. Pharoah’s magicians had just made snakes, but that was a magic trick, no proof of power, apparently. There’s that snake in the garden, the one who tries to talk people into doing what they want to do even though they know it’s a bad idea. Take the thing that is most dangerous to you, create your own version of it, and look at it, and look at it, and look at it, and you’ll be all right. Old Testament God has a few good ideas.
2 thoughts on “Snakes & Ladders”
Elizabeth, this is fabulous.
of course you know the old stoy about the girl that saved the life of the frozen snake. it woke up and bit her. when she complained the snake said, “you knew i was a snake when you picked me up”