Tuesday Thoughts: Solace in a Spider Web

My mind scurries around like a spider searching for a spot to anchor a web as I watch the rise and fall of his chest as he and the Bi-Pap machine breathe together. Each breath is like a spider web strand, some long, some short, most of equal length. I watch the green, red, and blue numbers on the Bi-Pap machine. They show that he is alive, but do they show hope? Where is hope, and comfort, and faith and God? Are they present in this bare room with the tubes and machines and unfriendly chairs and friendly, but busy nurses and the doctor who apologizes because he must admit the person in the bed to intensive care?

I watch the spider to try to take my mind off the stark strands in my web of reality.

Spider webs are artistic and practical, with as many complex layers as human society. Some people ignore or destroy them. Discerning people appreciate them. Imaginative people see them as symbols of both good and evil with their intricate beauty and predatory purpose. Perceptive people see them as tensile bridges across figurative and literal chasms. People with faith, even a tiny strand of faith, see them as yet another path to God.

Spider webs are miracles that spiders weave in the middle of ordinary human lives. Spiders have been around for at least 380 million years and scientists estimate that there may be about 180,000 spider species. Spiders are not insects, but what scientists classify as arachnids, a classification that includes daddy long legs, scorpions, mites, and ticks. Insects have six legs, wings, and antennae. Spiders have eight legs.

Spiders are Self- Reliant

Spiders build their own homes and capture their food supplies. Spiders are the only creatures that incorporate silk into their daily lives by spinning webs out of silk that they produce with their own bodies. They use their webs to travel or “balloon” from one place to another, as protection at the entrance of their dwellings, to encase egg sacs, and to trap insects for food.

The Composition of Spider Webs

Spiders have seven pairs of silk spinning glands called spinnerets that are located either in the middle or at the end of their abdomen. Each spinneret is unique, and the spider uses each to manufacture different kinds of silk. Disk silk leaves a zigzag pattern and strengthens the dragline. Safety line silk gives the spider an anchor.

Orb web silk gives the web strength and stretchiness. Sticky catching silk traps and captures prey. Swathing silk wraps and immobilizes prey. Tangling silk tangles prey. Egg sac silk keeps baby spiders safe. The spider manufactures the silk as a liquid, but it comes from its glands as solid silk fibers. The Nephila spider’s silk is the strongest natural fiber known to humans and humans use it to make tote bags and fish nets.

The Specific Spider Web

Tangled spider webs consist of a shapeless jumble of threads attached to a support such as the corner of a ceiling. Cobwebs are tangled webs that have collected dust and dirt. Black and brown widow spiders and common house spiders make tangled webs. The orb web, which looks like a wheel with spokes, is the most common spider web. Spiders that weave the orb web include humped spiders, bolas spiders, silk spiders, and shamrock spiders.

Sheet webs are composed of flat sheets of silk between grass blades or shrub or tree branches. The doily spider, the filmy dome spider and the platform spider spin sheet webs. Gum-footed webs are made up of tightly woven silk strands attached between two branches. When an insect is trapped in the web, its struggles break the lines and move the web up, lifting it off the ground so it cannot escape. Redback spiders make gum footed webs. Horizontal Line webs are composed of one line of sticky droplets that stretch across vegetation. When an insect hits the line, the loose silk tangles the prey. Cribellate and pea sized spiders make these webs.

Bolas spiders design bolas spider webs. The spider sits on a horizontal line and spins a single line with a sticky silk tip that it dangles from its leg. When its prey comes toward it, the spider swings the silk in a circle and captures it. The triangle spider creates triangle webs. It waits at one end of the web for an insect to land and shakes the web so the insect can’t escape.

The Mythological and Historic Spider Web

Spiders and their webs are familiar figures in the mythology and history of the entire world. According to the Roman poet Ovid, spiders and their relatives derive their scientific name, Arachnida, from a mortal woman in Greek mythology name Arachne.

An exceptionally skilled weaver, Arachne challenged Athena, the Greek Goddess of wisdom, law, and justice just to name a few of her titles to a weaving contest. Athena wove a life like tapestry and when Athena saw the perfection of Arachne’s weaving, she destroyed it. Overcome by grief, Arachne hanged herself and Athena took pity on her. Athena changed Arachne into a spider while the rope she used to hang herself became a cobweb, and proclaimed that Arachne would weave a spider’s tapestry, a web, throughout eternity.

The sacred writing of ancient India records that a large spider created the universe, weaving a web from her glands and sitting in its center directing its motion. The earth is part of her web, and she is free to decide whether or not to consume her creation as many spiders do their webs to clear her way to spin a new universe.

At least three verses in the Old Testament of the Bible mention spiders. Proverb 30:28 mentions the spider as a little but exceedingly wise creature that “taketh hold with her hands and is in kings’ palaces.”  The spider’s web symbolizes the hypocrite’s hope in Job 8:14 as well as of the disobedient Jews’ works in Isaiah 59:5.

Spiders are featured in historical stories of people pursued by various dangers, including Mohammed and St. Felix of Nola. A spider spun its web over the entrance to their hiding place and noting the intact web, their pursuers decided that no one had passed that way and went on their way.

King Robert the Bruce, crowned King of Scotland in 1306, had a mission to free Scotland from the English Army. Defeated in battle, Bruce escaped and hid in a cave for at least three months. Discouraged, he thought about leaving Scotland for good. While in hiding, he watched a spider building a web over the cave entrance. The spider constantly fell as it tried to weave its web, but the spider kept working and finally finished the web. Robert the Bruce decided that he would persevere like the spider and continue to fight for Scottish independence. He won the fight.

The Enduring Spider Web

In December 2008, British paleobiologist Martin Brasier of Oxford University announced that a 140 million year old web had been found in a small piece of amber that an amateur fossil hunter had picked up on a beach on England’s south coast two years earlier.

The Inspirational Spider Web

In February 2012, scientists at the University of Akron announced that they have developed an unusual synthetic thread resembling the silk that an orb spider spins to make its web.  They call their material beads on a string (BOAS) because it looks like beads on a string in a circular web, although the synthetic beads on a string are glue droplets. The synthetic version of the orb spider’s web design has potential to be used as strong and flexible sutures containing medication embedded in the bead like structures. The researchers developed the new biocompatible thread after consulting doctors specializing in wound healing.

 You are anchored like the spider and there are wound healing threads in the web of life and its situations. You do not have to be trapped in a web of your own making, a web of stress, heartache, worry and weariness to find God. You do not even have to weave a web of positive thinking. God is here as surely as you are sitting on the hard metal chair. His care surrounds you and the person lying in the bed on the Bi-Pap breathing machine. He feels the suffering of you both. You are not alone. He is real and caring and weaving His web of love around you and holding you securely in its strands.