There is a story of a spider that dropped a single strand down from the top rafter of an old barn and began to weave his web. Days, weeks, months went by, and the web grew. It regularly provided the spider food as flies, mosquitoes and other small insects were caught in its elaborate maze. The spider built his web larger and larger until it was the envy of all the other barn spiders. One day, as this productive spider was traveling across his beautifully woven web, he noticed a single strand going up into the darkness of the rafters. I wonder why this is here, he thought. It doesn’t serve to catch me any dinner. And with that, the spider climbed as high as he could and severed the single strand that was his sustenance. When he did, the entire web slowly began to tumble to the floor of the barn, taking the spider down with it.
It is easy to believe about ourselves that we are self-sufficient. We receive the benefit of our own web-weaving. Woven into the middle-class North American ideal of self-sufficiency can be the venomous, dangerous ideas that not only are we responsible for our own success, we do not actually “need” anyone else. That way of seeing life can be challenged when something happens to upset the carefully constructed web of our lives. Illness. Accident. Downsizing. Broken relationships. The death of a loved one.
If we have been in the mental and emotional, and spiritual habit of self-reliance, what do we do when circumstances change, and self-reliance is no longer enough? Where does our hope come from?
Sometimes a minor crisis in life is enough to wake a person up to the reality that they need more than their own cleverness and hard work to live. For others, when the crisis hits, they crave hope, and at first can only see it in the hopefulness of others, because they have not developed their own “hope connection”.
In the story, the spider seems to have forgotten that the single strand of web upon which it had descended from the rafter was a necessary connection. That single strand was holding everything in place. The analogy is not perfect, but it seems to me that in the story, the rafter is God, and that single strand had kept the spider’s web connected. When the spider chose to tear out that supporting strand, everything fell apart.
The spider was not in an obvious crisis until the web collapsed. The spider thought everything they had made was enough.
One of the important gifts, and important functions of a faith community is to offer a place for, and to encourage the practice of acknowledging our needed connection to God. Congregations get together to pray, to offer thanksgiving, to sing, and to praise God. It’s not that God needs to be praised. It is more that we need to do the praising, to remind ourselves, and all our fellow spiders that we are not actually self-sufficient. It is good for us to keep up the holy habit of connecting to the source of all life, and meaning, and hope.
I have noticed in almost 25 years as a pastor that people who have lived through hard times are more likely to feel hopeful that they can endure, when they face further hardship. I have also noticed that people who have retained a holy humility, and know that their lives are held by God, and are not held together only by their own efforts, are more likely to feel sustained by hope in the hard times.