October and Loving the World



In one of my favorite poems Mary Oliver wrote, My work is loving the world...which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished...which is mostly rejoicing...which is gratitude. I worked really hard last week, at least according to Mary Oliver’s definition. A black and yellow garden spider spun her web on a yew bush just outside the window near my computer. For over a week I learned to be astonished at her patience as she waited for an insect to get caught in her orbit. I rejoiced when, after a storm with downpours and gusty winds, she survived, zipper intact. I loved watching her eat an entire moth slowly over many hours. I was grateful for this unexpected visitor, one who required nothing of me and offered me no possibility of infection.


Another more creative name for this species is “writing spider” because of the zipper-like part of her web biologists call a stabilimentum, pictured here. It is thought that this is where E.B. White got his idea for Charlotte’s Web. The writing spider I observed may not have woven the words “enjoy, be astonished, rejoice, be grateful” into her web, but the message was clear to me.


I know spiders fulfill their role in the ecosystem by preying on a variety of insects and by being predators for other species, and this led me to ponder our human role in the ecosystem at this critical time on Earth. I think Pope Francis says it well in the encyclical Laudato Si: The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things. Saint Bonaventure teaches us that “contemplation deepens the more we feel the working of God’s grace within our hearts, and the better we learn to encounter God in creatures outside ourselves”. (233)


After a week this Orb Weaver disappeared from view, and I surmise she is reweaving at another site, ready to be silent and wait. Our encounter surely nurtured my contemplative heart. May all of us live so lightly and contemplatively on our rare and precious planet.

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