I startled a young black snake: he
flew over the grass and hid his face
under a leaf, the rest of him in plain sight.
Little brother, often I’ve done the same.
-Mary Oliver, The Truro Bear
The phrase, “You can run, but you can’t hide” has many meanings.
In terms of our relationship with God, this is true in a very real way. This must be one of those key relationships in which we do not hide, pretend to be something other than we are. We must be real -with our whole selves, scary as that can be, when we come into the presence of our loving God. This kind of gut level intimacy and effort at being real involves risk and vulnerability. It is not always the way we can or should operate in all the areas of our lives.
It may be necessary at times to present our outer selves one way in certain situations, but in reality we may be going through a hard time, or really struggling. For example, if we are in the midst of a tough or painful situation or if we are really pondering something of serious import in our lives, sharing this with a co-worker who innocently asks, “How’re you doing?” may not be the wisest course of action. The other day, Gina and I went for custard. The young man who took care of us said, “Can I help whoever’s next?” We walked over and he said, “Hello.” Gina said, “Hi ! How are are you?” He said, “I’m having a really bad day, don’t even ask. But what can I get for you?” We ordered our custard. He was prompt and courteous. He had a name tag on -it said Zak. Hang in there, Zak!
On the other hand, to try to “hide” as the snake in Oliver’s poem from our loving God, or from those who love us and know us intimately, is to deprive God and those who love us the opportunity to be welcomed into our lives where we are most vulnerable and therefore, the most in need of love and acceptance. There needs be in our lives relationships that are free from pretending or hiding- where we can simply be who we are – even when that includes being needy, hurt, or unable to help or fix a problem. To allow another to be with us in these times, to put ourselves into God’s presence during these times, is to allow ourselves to be real – warts, scars, strengths and weaknesses. Broken, but loved. Vulnerable, but strong. A sinner, but one who is loved, forgiven and redeemed.
In 2000, I was about to start a silent retreat with a group at Gethsemane monastery in Louisville, KY. An old monk came to address us before we started. He talked about the importance of ‘coming clean’ with God, and of availing ourselves of the sacramental rite of reconciliation. “After all” he said, “You painted it – you might as well sign it!” Amen!
Take some time with Oliver’s poem. I did. In what areas of your life might you be like the black snake – “hiding” from something… but really not hiding at all?