The Community is in chapel for our daily Mass, and the lector just finished the first reading, the opening verses from Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity! […] The sun rises, the sun sets; then to its place it speeds and there it rises. […] There is nothing new under the sun.”
It is time to stand and lead the Psalm. I rise, move close to the black microphone and open my mouth, and then I see it: a white crab spider inches away from my lips.
I have a life-long horror of spiders. Completely irrational, but an unshakable fear. Standing there in the chapel, with the Community watching, waiting for me to begin, I am suddenly in my garden ten years ago, have just put my hand right through a funnel spider’s nest, and it is stinging me. The muscles in my forearm are in spasm as though I am grasping a live wire and a hard knot swells up under the skin.
Go forward ten years, and now here is this small creature before me. I fight the urge to run, and I look closely. It is delicate, inoffensive; a thing of wonder, really. It probably came in on one of the flowers next to the altar and is wondering where it is. I draw a deep breath and begin. “O Lord, you have been our refuge from one generation to the next.” I am relieved that my voice is steady.
As I recite each line, the Sisters answer with the refrain, and I watch the spider. It circles the microphone, disappearing behind it and re-appearing on the other side, over and over – like a small satellite orbiting the earth, or like the sun rising and setting and rising again. At one point she drops towards the floor, swinging by a thread, and then crawls up to continue her orbit. Amazingly, she keeps time with my voice, an orbit per stanza. A small, joyful liturgical dance, I thought. Why should this miracle of God frighten me?
In Psalm 27 the singer tells us, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; why should I be afraid?” What unseen wonders are in front of my eyes, what possibilities for service go undone, because I fear things that will not harm me?
I think of the first reading – “There is nothing new under the sun” – and remember something different from Paul’s second letter to the Church in Corinth: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” And later this is confirmed in Revelation: “And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’”
I am a new creation in Christ. Why should a spider make me afraid? Why should I fear?