Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Taking up Serpents

Funny what you will find skimming through the news. Like this.

I actually have been to a snake handling church. I was sixteen and visiting with a friend's family way up in the high high hills of Southern Appalachia. We had to bring our own chairs (my friend's granny had lawn chairs in the trunk of her car). We drove pretty much straight up the mountain, parked and walked a ways to the church which could have passed for a run down old barn, just a wood frame rectangle with double doors on the front and a single back door.

Everyone came in, set up their chairs and the preacher started preaching. Now, I tell you, I thought I'd heard some preachin' in the Southern Baptist Church, but I ain't heard nothing like that. The old preacher man looked to be about 80 years old (remember, I was 16, he was probably 50) and although he held his Bible, he never looked in it nor read from it. But he was quoting pages of scripture from memory.

What I had been expecting was a hellfire and brimstone sermon. One of those that make you feel the flames of hell licking at your sinful ankles and has you sniffing because you are sure you can smell the sulfer. A sermon to strike fear of God into the hearts of sinners.

But no. This sermon, no less passionate, was a message of hope. Was a message of love. Was a message of peace. It was the single most amazing sermon I've ever heard preached.

The congregation was singing some hymn, one I'd certainly never heard of, but sure could clap along to, because the singing was more in the jubilant style of gospel choirs I'd heard than the slightly off-key, dragging litany of the staid Southern Baptist choirs I'd endured, when it happened.

No-one had told me.

Two deacons went out the back door and came back in, each with a rattlesnake held in each hand. Four snakes in all, dangling out of their palms at the altar. And people started moving forward, touching one of the snakes and returning to their seats.

They didn't handle the snakes, just touched them, to prove God would keep them safe from harm, if they had faith.

I'm not really surprised it is still going on. It was, in it's own way, very beautiful and moving.

Not that I touched one. Nuh-uh, no way, you must be crazy up in your head.

Thor sez: I woulda touched it! I woulda grabbed him like this. I woulda flipped him like that. And then I woulda gnaw, gnaw, gnaw'd him like this.

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