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Dave Brisbin

Snakes and Stones

I’ve been going on about Jesus as a poet. A great poet. And if that sounds strange and unfamiliar, how about considering that Jesus was a great psychologist too? Jesus deeply understands the human condition and human psychological development, and in the poetic language of his day and choosing, articulates a Way to psychological health and balance for which we all crave and pay big money these days.

Jesus’ three temptations in the wilderness beautifully symbolize the three “energy centers” of Thomas Keating or Maslow’s deficiency needs—security and survival, esteem and affection, power and control. In earliest childhood, we develop unconscious, emotional programs to meet these needs that then emerge into consciousness as our attachments and aversions: things we like and don’t like, cling to for happiness or cling to not clinging to. Compulsive thought and behavior patterns are driven by these attachments and aversions, which create triggering events when frustrated in any way.

Jesus’ time in the wilderness was his drilling down to identify and meet the basic needs that were driving his compulsions in truly transcendent Way. If you think Jesus was above such compulsions, consider why the gospels would preserve such a story with Jesus pushed to exhaustion and starvation by the effort. Jesus’ Way is not theology. It’s braving the difficult passage to truth that makes us free of the compulsions that enslave us and keep us apart from each other and God.

When Jesus says no parent, or God by extension, will give their child a stone if asked for a loaf of bread or a snake if asked for a fish, he is giving us first steps along the Way. Distinguishing between objects that may look similar from a distance—seeing which give live and which take it away—is how we build the awareness to see which of our cherished attachments and aversions are really meeting our most basic needs.

No one gives up what they’ve clung to entire lives until they can see past compulsive snakes and stones to the freedom of sustained life that loaves and fish represent.


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