Parable of the Spider

Parable of the Spider June 7, 2021


I saw a yellow spider, riding on a yellow leaf.

I was swimming laps in Raccoon Creek Lake, back and forth by the buoys at the edge of the swimming area. The water is deep green, the lake weeds that tug at your ankles are medium green, and the buoys and ropes are blue. There’s nothing yellow in that part of the lake, which is why the leaf caught my eye even though I’m extremely nearsighted, and my glasses were tucked into my shoes back with our picnic on the beach.

As I swam closer, I saw that the yellow circle was a dead leaf that must have blown from the trees on the other side of the lake. And then I saw that there was a bright spider, halfway between green and yellow, the exact color of the leaf, standing in the very middle like the yolk of an egg, floating on the deep green water.

I admired the beauty of the vignette for a moment. And then I realized it wasn’t beautiful. The leaf was old and flimsy, already taking on water. The spider probably wasn’t conscious of her predicament– indeed, since spiders are invertebrates without a central nervous system, I don’t know if it’s really fair to say that the spider had ever been conscious at all. But she was alive, and in a minute or two her barque would capsize, and shortly after she wouldn’t be alive anymore. The world would go on exactly as it had, for every other conscious being in the universe, but for the spider on the leaf that would be the end.

For the spider on the leaf, I could save the entire world.

I picked the leaf up on the flat of my hand, treading water with the other arm and both legs. The bottom of the lake was within touching distance but slimy and cold, hard to keep my balance. I didn’t want to slip and lose the spider, so I didn’t dare touch down. I kicked my way toward the shore.

The spider sensed something different in her environment. Maybe it was the warmth of my hand. She had been standing perfectly still in the middle of the leaf. Now she left the leaf entirely and wandered around my palm, exploring. I held that hand high as I dog paddled back to the shore.

The spider paced over my fingertips and up the back of my right pointer toward the wrist. She had no idea what danger she was in. She didn’t know that I don’t normally like spiders and have swatted more than a few. But this was a very small, very pleasantly colored spider, and her feet didn’t tickle me. I was glad to keep my eye on her. As for her, she didn’t know that I was there at all.

She continued up the wrist. I brought up my other hand to intercept her, and she crawled on the left hand toward the flesh at the base of my thumb. I could keep my composure so long as she didn’t climb someplace worse, like into my bathing suit or mouth. I kept interposing a hand when she went too far as I made my way to shore. Pretty soon my feet touched ordinary sand, and then I was walking instead of swimming. After that I was on my knees because it’s faster going to knee-walk through shallow water than to slosh through it on foot.

The spider kept exploring her new boat until I got her all the way across the beach, to the tall grass by the sand. And then I let her go. She disappeared immediately, a spider halfway between green and yellow swallowed up by green grass and yellow sand.

I went back to finish my exercise.

I suppose that spider was stepped on later that day, or washed back out to the lake in the evening’s thunderstorms. She may well be dead right now. But if she’s dead, she didn’t die for lack of mercy.

I have come to believe and profess that there is a Being swimming with me here in the water, Who sees the water much more clearly than I do and Who knows the dangers I face before I’m even aware of them. Sometimes I become conscious of the presence of the Being, but I wouldn’t say I understand Him any more than my spider came to understand me by exploring my knuckles. Sometimes I cannot feel the presence of that Being at all, but I knew He was with me in the lake just then.

I have come to believe that “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy,” is not a statement of quid pro quo. The Being swimming with me in the endless water doesn’t withhold mercy just because the spider on the leaf is being stubborn. Rather, it’s while we’re being merciful that we can become aware of the mercy of God all around us, offered constantly, forever playing on the waters from the dawn of time until the end of ages.

Blessed are the merciful. For they will be shown the mercy that is all around them, and they will be able to see what so many ignore.

Blessed are the merciful, because they will be made conscious of the One who carries them in the palm of His hand.

Blessed are the merciful.


Image via Pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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