Beauty and Danger

Sometimes the most beautiful things are also the most dangerous.

About a month ago we were hiking a popular trail in Cahuita National Park on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. Another hiker stopped and pointed to a specific spot in the bushes about five feet off the trail. It takes a while for untrained eyes to see things in the jungle but we finally brought into focus what she was looking at: a gorgeous golden yellow snake hanging from a branch.

Our hike that day held a lot of spectacular sights. The beach near the trail was marvelous with turquoise water and gentle waves. Along the path we saw sloths, countless unusual birds and butterflies, and a wide variety of colorful plants and flowers. But without a doubt, that brilliant yellow snake was the most beautiful thing we saw. It was also the most dangerous.

The venom of the Eyelash Palm Pit Viper is highly toxic. Fortunately, they are not aggressive to humans and if we didn’t bother it, it wasn’t likely to bother us. At least that’s what the books say. We didn’t feel quite that secure being so close we could have touched it with a hiking pole.

The word of wisdom from the guides about the whole hike was this: “Enjoy looking but don’t touch.” It’s probably wise counsel in a lot of situations.

It’s advice that we could wish had been followed by the first couple in the Garden. According to the story, the forbidden fruit was especially alluring. The book of Genesis describes the fruit’s appeal in three distinct ways: it was attractive visually, it promised to give satisfaction of physical hunger, and it offered to satisfy intellectual curiosity as well.

Many of the things that pose danger to us make their initial appearance in one of those three ways: presenting an attractive appearance, offering to satisfy a physical hunger, or promising to make us wise.

I agree with Thomas Merton who said, “The greatest temptations are not those that solicit our consent to obvious sin, but those that offer us great evils masking as the greatest goods.”

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