Arachnophobia

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Arachnophobia

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?

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“Listen carefully, my child, to your master's precepts, and incline the ear of your heart. Receive willingly and carry out effectively your loving father's advice, that by the labor of obedience you may return to Him from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.”
–St. Benedict of Nursia, The Rule of Saint Benedict