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Snakes in the garden

Snakes in the garden

I never expected to find them here.

These impressive gardens outside of Philadelphia, were a favorite destination for my parents to take out-of-town guests when I was growing up. The sprawling, manicured grounds and blossom-packed conservatory, with themed rooms, were wasted on me as a boy. As soon as I was permitted, I’d race off with whatever kids were with us to play some imaginative narrative, usually involving thwarting some nefarious plot to destroy mankind. (Like the one to bore children to death with flowers.)

Today, I’m here with granddaughters, who are much more engaged than I ever was. As we meander through the peaceful beauty around us, they seem eager to delight in the order and color. They’ve been here before and want me to see their favorite sights. The fountain gardens.

The desert room with cactus blossoms.

And the secret lair of the bubbling cauldron.

I know – sounds nefarious, right? That boyhood version of me cries out, Where was this when I needed it?

We enter a small, outlying stone building, descend some stairs and come to a large cement bowl, filled with water. From this black pool emanates mist, pouring over the edges like the vapor of dry ice. The girls run their hands through it.  “Cool, huh?” they ask me.

It is. But my attention is transfixed on the carved snakes curling down from the ceiling above – mouths open, ready to bite. What a dark thing to find in this floral Oz, incongruous and intriguing.

My mind immediately goes back to Eden where the serpent was just as unexpected and jarring. And I start to muse on how often the gardens of our lives are spoiled by some serpent, injecting venomous untruth about God and about us.

If you’ll remember, the first forked-tongue falsehoods sought to bring a distrust of God:

He said to the woman, “Did God really say,…?”  (and) “You will not certainly die.” (Gen 3:1-4)

In essence, he intimates that God did not want their best. That lie has never changed.

Grumbling is the same snake talking.  Truth is: life is good. His mercies are new every morning.  Goodness and mercy follow us every day of our lives. And yet, we all too often hear that small, sibilant whisper of discontent.  Yes, this is good, but if God REALLY loved you, he’d add thissss.

It may be a missing piece we think we need to be happy. Or it may be a persistent worry we return to like a tongue over a rough tooth. Or an unanswered prayer.

Regardless, it takes our eyes off the very present goodness of our loving Father.

Knowing how susceptible I am to this, I resolve to work on it.  God’s glory is on display all around me. And not just in the beauty of his creation. I can find it in the blessings he has intricately woven into each day.

If I’m willing to look for it. And stop listening to that snake.

Father, how good you are! Help us to tune out the deceiver so that we can revel in your kindnesses displayed everywhere we look.

Reader: What helps you to silence that serpent talk? Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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