Some years ago I was invited to preach at a local church. I don't preach that often, so I worked very hard on the sermon, and took care to feel calm and collected that morning. As you can imagine, I take this sort of thing very seriously.
During this time that I was scheduled to preach, I had a lot going on in my life. My son was starting kindergarten at a new school. My daughter was transitioning to a new preschool. We had bought a house, sold a house, renovated a house while we were living in it, and then moved into the rest of our house. I was thinking of leaving a group I had invested myself deeply in for years. The holidays were coming. I had just spent months studying for, taking, and passing a set of exams. It was an overwhelming time, riddled with excitement and anxiety. So, when the morning came, saying I had taken care to feel calm and collected really did take a great deal of effort.
But, I do love to preach when the opportunity presents itself, and I was excited about my sermon, so I took a few deep breaths and felt ready. I pulled on my black ministerial robe and stole, which I rarely get to wear, and processed into church. I waited my turn, then took the pulpit.
And that is when the strangest thing happened.
I didn't get nervous or freak out or forget my sermon notes - nothing like that. But as I opened my folder and adjusted my eyes to moving between congregation and manuscript and said good morning, I saw the tiniest little something that I could say or do nothing about as I stood at the pulpit.
I saw an itsy bitsy spider moving up and down its fragile web, attached to the microphone.
The thing was so tiny, I am surprised I noticed it at all. I had a biref moment where I didn't know what to do. Could I stand it? Could I live with a spider dancing up and down while I tried to preach? How distracting was this going to be? What if it walked across my notes? Should I try to kill it? Is THAT the right thing to do when you are dressed in a robe and preaching? I had a lot of thoughts in a short period of time, while I tried to continue on and not let on to the congregation that anything was amiss in the least.
I decided I had to just let it go. I decided to preach, and let the "itsy bitsy spider crawl up the microphone." I decided to see what I might learn from this situation.
So, I preached. The sermon went fine, the spider did its thing, and I concluded.
As the day progressed and has time went on, I have sometimes thought of the little spider messenger I was sent that day. Was there a lesson I could learn from this, or was it just a little coincidence that needed no more time? I really felt like maybe there was something to glean from the situation. And then it hit me -
Sometimes there are things going on around you of which you are not even aware.
I doubt anyone else in the congregation could see the spider on the pulpit. I also doubt anyone, or perhaps very few, knew what I was facing in my life at that time. Good news and crazy news - but still a lot of things were spinning. There were a lot of things happening of which others were not aware.
Most of us have a lot of spinning plates, and things that need our attention. Our social media society also loves comparing to others, and we find we might avoid sharing anything less than perfect in our lives if we can help it. But there are things going on around us of which we are not even aware - we all have struggles - we all have stories. I think it was part of what the spider had for me that day. Although the congregation saw nothing unusual, and I was able to hold it all together with this little distraction, I also recognize that there was this little thing happening with me that required my attention. I had the sense that the oddity and intimacy of it was striking, that the spider and I shared something at the pulpit that morning.
Knowing that there are often things going on around us of which we are never aware is both a comfort and a concern. It is a reminder that we are not ever completely in control, and at the same time, a reminder that we are in control of more than we think. We can make decisions about the way we will respond to a situation. We can decide to share or not. we can be open to sitting with the unusual or fighting it. We can realize that even when we don't like it, sometimes 'those are the circumstances' we must face and we need to understand so that we can decide what happens next. At the same time, we realize we are not the center of the universe, and many, many circumstances affect what happens in our lives.
There is a great web of connection within our world and the little spider is a good example of it. We are all connected in fragile ways, with thin wires on which we can hang on for dear life... or we can decide to dance. This is the way we will change the world, little acts of kindness that ripple into great waves.
Even an itsy bitsy spider can remind us of God's grace. Imagine what we can do when we face what faces us, share God's gifts to us, and stop pretending we are the only ones who matter. We can honor our lives and indeed all of creation, when we recognize our smallness and our largeness at the same time.
Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. - Ian McLaren