June 2018

Lessons from a backyard spider

As I ponder the spider and its web, it strikes me that our understanding of being trapped and being protected can easily be misunderstood or misinterpreted, writes Sister Margaret Keane.

BY Margaret Keane SGS

We have had an extraordinary cobweb in our backyard. It extends for several metres as a single thread, surviving fierce gales and lashing rain. At the end is a web of great intricacies. In the centre is a large black spider. As you have probably guessed, not one of us has ventured to break the web. After all, it may be a trapdoor spider hatching a multitude of little trapdoors! The spider is safe and so are we.

This spider has surrounded itself very carefully with a beautiful web, its protection against harm. As I ponder the spider and its web, it strikes me that our understanding of being trapped and being protected can easily be misunderstood or misinterpreted.

Whatever St Peter felt before he denied Jesus three times, he must have felt exposed with no supportive ‘web’. I assume he felt immense fear of being captured in the same manner Jesus had been taken away to be tried. It is hard to imagine Peter’s degree of remorse when he heard the cock crow. No wonder he wept. His response was so very different from the confident Peter who challenged Jesus when he was asked three times to affirm his love for Jesus. He sounded annoyed and yet recognised Jesus’ divinity by saying: “you know I love you”.

A similar scenario played out prior to Jesus being condemned to death. Pilate was trapped in his fear of falling out of favour with Caesar. He did not want to lose favour with the crowds either. He was ‘between a rock and a hard place’. He gave into his fear and released Barabbas.

Being trapped by fear is not the only way we can be affected. Jesus gave us an example of being trapped by position when, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, he spoke of the priest passing by the wounded man. By touching a suffering fellow human the priest risked being found unclean. It was his position that prevented him from doing so; he saw it as being outside his priestly role. In the same manner a Levite passed by. The priest and the Levite both had positions which trapped them, stopped them from doing good.

Today our politicians, who hold considerable power because of their position, can also become trapped by their position and make decisions which impact heavily on the lives and well-being of their fellow humans. Think of the cruel policies endorsed by so many of our politicians which prevent refugees and asylum seekers from making their home in Australia. And what about other government-supported systems which also serve to keep people trapped in poverty, illness, unemployment and nothing less than misery?

How can we be freed from attitudes and activities that entrap us?

As I sit with my reflections, I’m mindful that we have recently celebrated Pentecost. Even though the disciples and others had seen Jesus alive after his resurrection, they remained fearful. They were safely behind closed doors. But when the Holy Spirit came and gave them power and courage, they were freed from their fear and burst out into every nation telling the Good News of Jesus. With loosened tongues they took good news and good deeds far and wide.

I’m wondering, what traps me and why? More importantly, what harm does it do? What good is not being done? Past hurts which I choose to ‘nurture’ do no good for peace in my life, nor for the community in which I live and work. I serve no one by staying in a web of anger. Our black spider is, at least, doing no harm.

Acting as if I am a class above my neighbour in intelligence, knowledge or anything that separates people cannot contribute to harmony in communities. Having a loose tongue and using it to cause harm to anyone is a trap that can become destructive and soul-destroying. Using speech to praise, encourage or support our neighbours is the discipleship to which we are all called.

We can also be trapped by tradition. Limiting half the population’s opportunity to use their God-given gifts is a trap. Sadly the Church reserves the formal opportunity for preaching and presiding over Eucharist for only half of its members. Perhaps we could break this ‘web’ by calling on God’s guidance and praying the ancient prayer:

“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful
and enkindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they will be created.”

Many of us learned this prayer in school. We were encouraged to pray it especially for wisdom and success in our studies. Wisdom is an essential gift of the Holy Spirit. No one of us has all the wisdom or all the knowledge about anything. If we are under our own illusion to the contrary we cut off our ability to learn things both old and new.

The new things that could be learned are many. Acceptance of difference, dignity due to all, the right to safety, food and medical services are not new in themselves. I’m hopeful for change. It will be a wonderful day when everyone is freed from the trap of disadvantage and all share equitably the fruits of new creation.

The black spider in our backyard may not be a danger to us. The fear of it is ill-founded. We have not done it justice because we have been trapped in limited knowledge of the facts of its life.

Margaret Keane

Good Samaritan Sister Margaret Keane worked for many years as an educator in secondary schools in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. Now retired, she lives in Melbourne.

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