Then, of course, while in Newfoundland, I took the biggest risk of my life, converting from Judaism to Christianity--a painful letting go of one family in order to embrace another - a move I firmly believed to be spirit-led. The tears I shed on the way to Israel were nothing compared to the tears I shed when I converted. I left Grand Falls a year and a half later for England, where I was enrolled in a theological college of 65 men and one woman. Guess who was the one woman? Prior to my arrival, the college had never had a female studying there; spending a year as a mascot was an unusual if not interesting experience. I had never before been to England, I was a foreigner and I was the wrong sex; not much question about the risk involved in this move.
I spent two years in England--the second living in an intentional Christian community and working in a parish--and then returned to Canada to test what others believed was a vocation to the priesthood. In the following four years, I studied theology and met Robin. Under the circumstances, being ordained and getting married seemed almost like a cakewalk compared to the previous 10 years of my life.
Following this defensive diatribe, Rebekah responded, "I guess you have taken some risks in your life." I quickly realized, however, that the operative words in her response to me were "have taken." No question about it. I "have taken" some risks in my life. However, recent history suggests pretty strongly that these are definitely a thing of the past. Today, I lead a settled, uneventful and fairly predictable life. No small wonder that my daughter regards me as someone who doesn't seek out adventure.
Recently, I have finished the book The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs, a humorous--although some would say--frivolous attempt by its author to "follow the bible as literally as possible." We have used the book for a study at Transfiguration and it has provoked much conversation about what is actually in the bible, how the material is interpreted by an assortment of people and groups, and where that leaves each one of us in terms of what impact its content should or should not have in our lives. Oddly enough, one of the people in the book who most touched me is, of all things, a snake handler.
Says A.J. Jacobs of this man, "Jimmy is the humblest fundamentalist you'll ever meet. Even his slightly stooped posture radiates humility. 'I'm just a mountain man,' he tells me... I just tell the word of God, and people can take it or reject it,' says Jimmy. "I've had Mormons here--I treat 'em good. I've had people from Finland here--I treat 'em good. I don't say anything against 'em. Just tell 'em the word of God.' Jimmy was saved when he was thirteen. He saw a snake in the road, and the snake tried to bite him, but 'God locked the snake's jaws. So that's when I knew it was true.' Since then, he's amassed what he believes is the largest archive of serpent handling material in the world." (The Year of Living Biblically, p. 295) At one point, Jacobs watches Jimmy handle a snake. "He does this for a minute, holding the serpent at eyes level. Then slowly, carefully returns the snake to its box. Jimmy is out of his trance. The weird thing is that his appearance has completely changed. He looks happier, fuller, transformed from two minutes ago. Maybe that's how Moses glowed when he came down from the mountain." (p. 298).
I am no fundamentalist and certainly no snake handler but I confess to being deeply moved by this man's personal experience of God and his preparedness to take this personal experience and risk his life for it. Further on in the same chapter, Jacobs refers to an essay written by the religion teacher who connected him with Jimmy. In this essay, the teacher says, "serpent handling is a valid mode of worship (which) lets the handler embrace life by conquering death." (p. 299) I daresay some people would say the same thing about bungee jumping. Nonetheless, after reading about Jimmy, I found myself pondering how so many of us avoid the "serpents" in our lives or, like me, start avoiding them as we age. Either we choose never to take risks or we stopped taking them a long time ago, so determined are we to hang onto life. Yet, as we hang onto life, is it possible that we are no longer embracing it and if so, might there be a different and perhaps more costly result to such hanging on?...
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