Front Row Seat at a Miracle
By Pratt Davis
For the past couple of weeks I have had a front row seat at the site of a miracle. No, it was not a Walking on Water
sort of miracle, but a miracle nonetheless. My front row seat was on the inside of the web of a beautiful garden spider.
At lunch one sunny day my husband and I noticed that a garden spider had constructed a web over our kitchen window. This was a gi-normous web, it filled one entire pane of our extra-large casement window. We were amazed at the size of the web and we watched the spider enjoying her lunch as we ate our own. That began almost two weeks of observation and study as we found out a lot about garden spiders in general and got to know our Arachnid visitor in particular.
With my nose almost against the glass, I study the markings on her body and legs. Her large body is a shiny black with a pattern of golden yellow markings that look as if they were painted. She has a dull golden-yellow band on the top segment of each leg. She reminds me that nature is full of patterns and symmetry if we just stop and look. She is of course belly side toward the window so I can see her mouth working and the tiny points at the end of her legs. I wonder if this spider really is a female and begin a little research.
Thank goodness for Google. I quickly find lots of information about garden spiders. This one is on the larger end of the species. I can be pretty sure it is a she
because this is autumn and at this time of year the male has done his job and the female has devoured him. We make lots of jokes at the dinner table about the poor male and how he fares with females, regardless of the species. She may have eaten her mate for breakfast, but that hasn't slacked her appetite. Lots of things get trapped in her web and we watch how quickly she moves around the web to immobilize her prey with a mummy-like wrapping of silk. Then she waits a little while before beginning the meal. We see everything from large flies to tiny gnats hung up in the web. Sometimes there are two or three bugs in the web at once, but she has them cleaned up and the dishes washed in a jiffy.
I also find out that she will not live until winter. Once the garden spider deposits her eggs in an egg case, usually on a limb of a shrub at the edge of the web, she will not survive the winter. I peer out the side of the window trying to see if I can spot an egg case. There is something nestled at the corner of the brick wall where the web appears to start, but I can't tell if it might be an egg case or not. And what will happen to hundreds of newly hatched garden spiders next spring if they hatch somewhere besides in a shrub?
Now I begin to study the web itself. In reading about the garden spider, I discover that each night this particular species eats the web and builds a new one before daylight. I can't believe that. This is a huge web. How in the world can she rebuild it every single morning? I find out when I go to the web first thing the next morning. My garden spider is still spinning her web although she is nearly done. She is holding on to spirals and spokes with four of her arms, but the left rear arm and the third arm just above it are doing the work of making the web. With the rear arm she pulls a thread from the end of her abdomen. As she pulls it out she reaches down with the third arm and grasps the mid-point of the thread, then lifts it head high where she can attach it to a spiral. Now she walks a step to the left then pulls and lifts another thread. I stand mesmerized and watch this meticulous action. Over and over it is move, pull, lift, attach. No grandmother could stitch any more beautifully or precisely with needle and thread. I watch in awe at this display of Divine Wisdom and Beauty.
What appears to be a simple garden spider is a marvelous illustration of the intelligence that runs through all of creation. I am reminded that I am surrounded by that Wisdom and Life Force everywhere I look - I just have to take the time to look closely. This creature also makes me aware that the Divine Wisdom is imprinted at my innermost being as well. I am not separate from the Mystery of the life force that we call God.
The ancient peoples and indigenous people knew that life force well. They lived outdoors in the midst of the natural world and could see firsthand its wisdom and beauty. Unfortunately for us modern humans, those ancient people did not have modern scientific language to express their relationships to the natural world. Often their attempts at expression are superstitious and unrealistic to modern ears; so from the earliest days of the development of a scientific approach to the natural world, we threw out the wisdom of our predecessors. Humans came to consider anything less than human as objects whereas ancient peoples revered all of creation as subjects.
At the time I was growing up I heard a lot of comments by adults about "dumb animals." I have learned over my lifetime that those adults should have taken a closer look at what they called dumb. Even the trees communicate with each other. Just because they don't speak English doesn't mean they don't talk to each other. Modern technology and science are giving us lots of information about plant and animal behavior. And far from being dumb, every life form exhibits unique and startling intelligence. A dog's world is perceived totally differently from a human's. The dog's sense of smell enables him to tell time, identify surroundings, and identify what belongs and what doesn't belong to a particular place. Elephants return to the scene of death of a calf or of their mothers for years after the death occurred. Listening to the sounds of their trumpeting tells us that they are grieving and remembering their loss. A study of bacteria reveals some pretty amazing behaviors, and the properties of water are miracles in themselves. Some wise humans over the years never lost the realization of God's presence revealed in creation.
Meister Eckhart lived in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries; he was a German theologian, mystic, and member of the Dominican Orders. He so aptly observed, "Apprehend God in all things for God is in all things. Every single creature is full of God and a book about God. Every creature is a word of God." How very much my approach to life changes when I live awake to recognizing God's presence in all of creation.
When we look closely at the objects of creation, we see that they are not objects, but subjects; and we see the Unity at the heart of it all. Fr. Richard Rohr writes about this idea in his online Daily Meditation of October 5. He says, “What else should the spiritual journey be? We become proclaimers of a Great Gift and Surprise both perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed at the heart of all creation."
My garden spider disappeared from her web one day. The web was left intact, so I don't think she became prey for some larger creature. Perhaps it was just her time to crawl away to die. I offer thanks for the gift of her at my window, revealing the "Great Gift and Surprise both perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed" while I eat lunch in my house on Fox Ridge Road.
Pratt Davis is a member of Sparta UMC and an avid UM Woman. Pratt practices Insight Meditation, is a student of night-time dreams, and writes articles for her church’s monthly newsletter.
Resources for Vital Congregations
Lewis Center for Church Leadership
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Books
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Serve Your Neighbor
GBHEM Leadership Resources
Living Faithfully: Human Sexuality and the United Methodist Church
Englewood Book Review
Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations
Ted Talks: The Golden Circle
Ted Talks: The Power of Vulnerability
Ted Talks: The Price of Invulnerability
Meditations on the Ministry of All Christians
Be A Disciple
A Disciple’s Path; A Guide for United Methodist
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Adult Christian Studies from the Wesley Ministry Network
Traveling Together: A Guide for Disciple Forming Congregations
Living As United Methodist Christians
Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials
Reclaiming our Wesleyan Tradition: John Wesley’s Sermons for Today
John Wesley Sermons: Anthology
Get Their Name
Evangelism & Theology in the Wesleyan Spirit
Canoeing the Mountains
Fresh Expressions: Dinner Church
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: Reach New Disciples
Lewis Center for Church Leadership: 50 Ways to Reach People
Community: The Structure of Belonging
RESOURCES TO CONNECT WITH THE COMMUNITY:
Institute for Emerging Issues
Congregations 4 Children
The Royce and Jane Reynolds Ministry Fund Grants
The Duke Endowment
The Appalachian District Church Vitality Team has been prayerfully seeking ways to help support you and the ministries of your local congregation during this COVID-19 pandemic. Together they have diligently researched and connected with others throughout the conference and our denomination to identify resources and offer them to you. We hope they will be helpful to you and bless you greatly in leading your churches and communities through this unprecedented time. We are very grateful to the District Vitality Team and other contributors for their great work on this resource.
This faithful team has created three documents, two of which you are receiving today. They include:
- Family Home Worship – designed to help families establish a regular worship space within their homes as well as a time where they can worship together.
- Tech Strategies – to help guide you in selecting effective tools and resources within your budget to best communicate in the digital world.
We believe these resources will be of great benefit to you. Also know that the District Vitality Team is available to answer any questions you might have in regards to the documents attached. If you have questions, you may email Rev. Howard Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org.