Look Closely

There is a book I love entitled, In the Sanctuary of Women: A Companion for Reflection and Prayer. The entry, “Learning to See(p. 191), reminds me:

“God is everywhere present in the world, suffusing creation with the being of God. Once in a while, if we keep our eyes open, if we look closely enough, something amid the familiar reveals itself, offers itself to us in a new way. What we know, what we have learned, is taken apart. Is remade. Remakes us.”

I thought of this one recent day as thunder rumbled in the west, past the tall downtown buildings and the curve of the highway, far enough away that the dogs still snored peacefully in their beds. I had lived here long enough to know that if the storm made it this far, I had about 15 minutes before the rain began.

Following my usual rain ritual, I closed the porch windows and walked across the yard toward the patio to retrieve the cushions from the wicker furniture. I felt the wind pick up as it often does before a storm. I was running out of time. Reaching the patio, I picked up an orange-striped pillow and cushion and promptly dropped them both, recoiling in horror. In the tuft of the cushion a large garden spider was protecting the web blanket that covered her freshly laid eggs. She was menacing, with brown, jointed legs, and a graphic brown and black body. Scary, creepy, dangerous-looking. I panicked as my reactive amygdala signaled imminent danger. I tried to bump her off. She clung. I tried harder. Still, she clung. She would not abandon her egg sac to me. Flinging the cushion to the ground, I grabbed the nearest stick and worked to flick her off the cushion. She was stubborn and tenacious. I was more so.

Finally, I stuffed the spider-free cushion into the deck box and hurried inside as rain began dropping in random splats. Once inside, I settled into my favorite chair. The spider soon crept back into my thoughts–brown and threatening, her legs simultaneously reaching and recoiling as she tried to hold her ground during our scuffle. As I reflected on my disregard for her life in response to my fear, I was humbled. With no other recourse, the spider had acted on instinct. She did what spiders do. I, on the other hand, had options–reason, compassion, curiosity–and yet in a moment of biased, conditioned fear, I ignored both and reacted. “There was another solution,” I told myself with regret. Why didn’t I utilize it?

Spiders seem scary and menacing to me, inciting fear in me for no real reason that I can remember. Yet, as I thought about this spider, about what had made her seem threatening, I couldn’t think of a single thing to support my emotional reaction. She was beautiful. Her markings were precise and detailed. The ways her legs moved as they reached and retracted were elegant and graceful; the egg sac was a delicate work of art. She was magnificent, and bold, and very strong for one so small. She was exquisite in the way she did what spiders do. I felt sad for having harmed a harmless spider.

I paused as I realized that opening my eyes to the spider had turned my fear and horror into curiosity and appreciation. In looking closely at the spider, my fear was taken apart and in this, I was remade in a way. I wondered–in what other ways do I fail to look closely, and so lean into my biases, making assumptions that lead to harm?

It has been a long season of difficulty as we wait for a virus to subside, for an election year to be over, for new jobs to emerge, for some measure of normalcy to return. The rain has been pelting our windows for months. As we each reflect on our own response to the fears we have known, I wonder if the niggling poke at the edge of our resistance might be asking us to look more closely.

Could there be beauty in the ugly, menacing thing we wish to flick away?

Could it be that what we have learned is being taken apart? With a second look might we see something in the familiar that God has revealed in a new way? Could this season of difficulty remake us?

There is a blessing at the end of the entry, “Learning to See.” 

May God,
who comes to us
in the things of this world
bless your eyes
and be in your seeing.

May Christ,
who looks upon you
with deepest love [even when you kill a spider]
bless your eyes
and widen your gaze.

May the Spirit,
who perceives what is
and what may yet be,
bless your eyes
and sharpen your vision.
May the Sacred Three
bless your eyes
and cause you to see. (p. 192)

May God’s peace be with us all as what has been taken apart is remade, my friends.

Richardson, Jan L.; In the Sanctuary of Women: A Companion for Reflection and Prayer; Upper Room Books, Nashville; 2010 (191-192)

Jill English is an avid encourager of humans and lover of words. She is most at home out-of-doors, and in particular, while walking any beach. Her most magical moments involve being Grammy to two remarkable grandchildren, and Mom to their lucky parents. As a discerner of call in higher theological education, her favorite conversations involve connecting the sacred dots of every-day life and faith. Jill lives in Grand Rapids, MI with two small, elderly pups.