Snakes give me the creeps—and no wonder. From the day I was baptized and bestowed with a holy medal, I’ve been surrounded by snakes. Not real snakes, mind you, but church snakes. Little snakes. Big snakes. Snakes with red eyes; others with forked tongues. Some snakes even had their tails in the air.
I didn’t know it at the time (I was only two weeks old), but that baptismal medal was my first brush with the serpent. The medal was small and blue, no bigger than a dime. But it was just big enough for a baby blue snake to crawl out from under the baby blue feet of the Blessed Mother.
I didn’t meet another reptile until around age four when I was old enough to attend Sunday Mass. At first, I noticed only a snake here and a snake there. By age six, however, I was obsessed with the serpent. I couldn’t help but shudder whenever I walked by the stained-glass window of the Blessed Mother trampling a green viper. When I knelt at the side altar and looked up at the life-sized statue of Mary (she was 4’8” tall, wasn’t she?), another creep stared at me from under her big toe. Even the medal that joined the rosary in a circle had a snake.
There were snakes on holy cards and on shiny pictures in my children’s missal. They were in Catholic story books and on the magnetic statue that sat on the dashboard of our family car. Mary and the snake were even in my bedroom. A statue of Our Lady of Grace stood on top of my dresser, the serpent’s ceramic fangs frozen at eye level—my eye level.
Even S-shapes pumped fear in me. I scaled the top of a school desk when a naughty boy came after me with a serpent—a plastic bag twisted into a large “S.” One night after praying with my glow-in-the-dark rosary, I woke up to find an “S” just inches from my face. “Snake, snake,” I screamed, before I realized it was the rosary that had crawled out from under my pillow.
As I grew up, I learned that the snake symbolizes Satan who beguiled Eve in the Garden of Eden and that the Blessed Mother—the New Eve who birthed the Messiah—is crushing his head (Genesis 3:15). But just the other day in church, a gentleman wearing a pair of snakeskin boots sat down next to me. I looked at his boots for a few seconds, then got up and moved. Who can worship when there’s snake sitting next to you?
Copyright © 2017 Marion Amberg