“Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?” – Indiana Jones in The Raiders of the Lost Ark
As long as I can remember I’ve been afraid of snakes in all sorts of totally rational and completely off the wall ways. It turns out there may be some good there, in the snakes, not the fear. Follow me now…
In the Spring of 1991, as a high school freshman, I was confirmed at Canyon Creek Presbyterian Church in Richardson, TX. Many of us were given a gift from our parents that day- most in a small gray box with a blue flannel pouch inside- from James Avery Jewelers. I was going through what we affectionately refer to now as my “black phase”- meant to describe my clothing more than my mood. I wanted nothing to do with delicate, dainty religious jewelry. I chose this chunky silver fish ring as my gift.
I love it. When I find someone who has that same ring I feel an instant connection. I have worn that ring on my right hand ring finger almost exclusively for the past 21 years (wow- that’s a long time!). The fish is a simple symbol for Christ- with a great history of how it’s been used since the early church to identify those who follow Jesus Christ. I am sad to say how many times someone has asked me if I was a Pisces after seeing the ring. At least it has been an opportunity to share some of my story when they ask.
While in Scotland this summer I wanted to get a piece of jewelry as a souvenir and a reminder of this year. I’ve been lightheartedly calling 2012 “The Year of Camille”- physically, spiritually, vocationally- I have been doing a lot of work on me. Spending time on the Isle of Iona in some ways felt like a celebration or confirmation of the work I’ve been doing. And not only did I want a souvenir, because I like that kind of stuff, but I also wanted a physical reminder of this work. I found a ring I loved made by the silversmiths of Aosdanna on Iona (www.aosdanaiona.com/aosdana_traditional_jewellery/). I was hesitant to get it because it would mean replacing my old confirmation fish ring. Some conversations with my fellow travelers showed me that this would be the perfect new confirmation symbol. So I got the ring. And then I read the little informational card that came with it. I thought it was simply a delicate design of intertwining Celtic lines and curves. It turns out those lines are snakes! Why did it have to be snakes?
One particular encounter with a snake will always stay with me and only recently has come to remind me of my strength in the face of my fears. In the Summer of 1995 I was a counselor at Grace Presbytery’s summer camp at Prairie Valley in Central Texas. One day I was leading a creek walk with a group of young campers. Our volunteer for the week was at the end of the line ensuring we didn’t lose anyone along the way. About a third of the way through our walk I announced that it was time to turn around and head back to the dining hall for the next activity. Michael, my colleague at the end of the pack, gave me a look like I was crazy- we had plenty of time. What no one else knew then was that I saw, about 4 feet in front of us, a water moccasin. We had been trained to distinguish between cotton mouths and just plain old black water snakes. I knew what I saw. In my book all snakes are bad and should be avoided, but these guys are especially bad. With a calm that I never would have guessed I had in me I quietly turned around and led the group back out of the creek and out of danger. There was a strength and peace there that I don’t always believe I have access to. If I had been alone or with only peers I probably would have either been paralyzed with fear or run crying and screaming like a baby.
This story reminds me that in the face of my worst fears, real dangers, I can make good choices and fear doesn’t have to control me. I think the problem with the world today, and perhaps throughout human history, is that we are more often motivated by our fears than our hopes.
So now I have this ring on my finger with snakes on it. According to the card from the jewelry shop “In Celtic mythology the serpent symbolizes renewal of life, while the interlacement they form represents eternity.” Who would have ever thought a snake would be a symbol for something good? Now I have a reminder not only of my time on Iona, but also of the possibility of renewed life. And I have a reminder that I don’t have to live motivated by my fears. Like Indiana Jones, I still hate snakes. I’m still afraid of them, even pictures of them in books. But fear doesn’t get the last word. I now have, in sterling silver, a reminder of the hope, strength and peace within me, a reminder of who I am as a beloved child of God, a mother, a wife, a pastor, and a friend.