O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;it is so high that I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night’, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.
‘Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’
I used to be a spinster. Actually, I still am, but just never have time for it anymore. And when I say I’m a spinster I’m not talking about my marital status. I went through a fiber arts phase, where I acquired both a spinning wheel and a loom. I would spin a variety of fibers into yarn, including the hair from my two angora rabbits: Thumper and Flopsie. Some of this yarn made it into projects I wove on my four-harness loom.
During the years when I was spinning and weaving I developed a respectful relationship with the other spinsters who lived in my house. I didn’t know them by name but recognized their web work, which hung in the uppermost corners of the ceilings and in the dusty underneath of my furniture. My respect for these spiders is immense, for they are capable of both spinning and weaving. So the rule in my house is I don’t bother the spiders if they don’t bother me. The only exception is when I go on a rare cleaning binge. I lie awake for nights afterwards, sure that that spiders are caucusing to plan their revenge for my having broken covenant with them. I have come to view these little creatures as theologians in residence, because they have much to teach me about the spiritual life.
I don’t recall Jesus talking about spiders. Perhaps his mother was a better housekeeper than I am. Had Jesus grown up in my house, the Newer Testament would be full of stories and parables about the spiritual virtues of spiders. Instead, Jesus gives us this little parable about the reign of God being like this woman who cleans her house while searching for a lost coin. In my mind, this is really a story about spiders; Jesus just didn’t come right out and say so.
A woman had a coin. It was here just a minute ago. But where did she put it? She looks around and doesn’t see it. So she starts to clean vigorously, sweeping and sweeping in hopes that the coin will turn up. As she sweeps, the spiders scurry into their corners, clinging to their webs, then they flee to the nearest wall as even the webs are swept aside. If this parable is all about persistence and patience, perhaps the woman learned it from the tenacious spiders in her house. For when a spider’s web is destroyed, she simply sets out to spin another one. She keeps at it again and again. The spider’s persistence mirrors that of God, the spinster who does not give up. Ever.
In his book Pray All Ways, Edward Hays says “…when we pray, we weave webs of worship as we connect the countless threads of our lives which are held together by a divine center. We are at one with God and with each other when suddenly our webs are broken by a variety of possibilities: a failure, some thoughtless mistake, sickness, or some misunderstanding with a person we love.”
So many things can sweep these webs of connection with God and others away. And if we are to remain connected with God, we can do so only by calling forth the persistence to spin the web over and over again.
Hays says that we reach out for the divine center again and again “…as we constantly reweave the fabric of our marriages, our work, our lives that are so easily broken by a word, a deed, a habit…” Like the spider, we patiently return to the work of repair and re-weaving lost connection. Inspired by the persistent woman, the persistent God, the spiders who steadily spin and weave their place in the world, we give it another try as we reach out to one another, and to God, again and again.
The image of God as fiber artist in Psalm 139 is one I love. God takes up knitting needles and yarn and in an act of creation knits us together in our mother’s womb. Each one of us is “intricately woven in the depths of the earth” by weaver-woman God. When we are awake, and even while we sleep, God is spinning and knitting and weaving through the day and night, pulling the threads together in a way that creates beauty, form, and life in us from birth onward. Spinster theology says that God is always spinning a web of love and nourishment that will hold us, pulling together the threads of love and connection in our lives.
Like the woman who learned persistence from the steady spiders, we too go about the business night and day, day and night, of spinning our webs of prayer and connection around ourselves. We re-work the webs when they are swept away, patiently waiting, waiting for God’s redemption to show up, suffering the slowness of the human heart to be transformed.
Henri Nouwen once said that the spiritual life is not so much a seeking after God as it is our trying to establish a permanent address so that God can find us. The persistent webs of prayer and connection and communion we weave over and over are so that God will know where to find us. For God is patiently looking, looking for us, searching, persistent as the spider, waiting to catch us up in a tender web of love forever. Amen.