Jul 10 2013

When Everything Fits

Spider in spiderweb -- orbweaver spider, Los Angeles, CA
I love to observe and photograph spider webs. They are amazing architectural structures. Have you ever watched one being constructed? That is also quite remarkable. It never ceases to inspire awe that such a little creature can do such work. A great example of seeing the wonders of creation.

I have studied a little about spiders and their silk. They can create up to seven different kinds of silk. In a web alone, there are often three different silks: the strongest and thickest used as support, a sticky and flexible silk that catches prey, and structural non-sticky silk that the spider can use for moving around the web and not disturbing the sticky stuff. There are few materials in the world that are as strong and as flexible as spider silk. Nothing we have made compares to it. Researchers are trying to duplicate it, but so far, they have not been able to do that. Potentially a protective vest could be made of the material that makes up spider silk to create a more comfortable yet stronger vest than a Kevlar vest.

SC 7-2013-03I was listening to a nature podcast from BBC radio that taught me something new about spider silk. It is made from “building blocks” that are very compatible with human tissues. This gives it much potential for the medical field. Yet, evidently many rural people used to know this intuitively and would put spider webs on cuts and other wounds. The wounds would heal better and faster.

Sometimes I know we as humans tend to feel superior to the rest of nature. We all do. But are we really? Can we believe that God actually created a substandard nature just so we would look good? I find that hard to believe. God created an amazing creature in a spider, an architect and engineer that has outstanding capabilities with simple materials that we cannot duplicate.

SC 7-2013-02I have often heard people say they don’t see the value of some animal or plant. Who are we to judge God’s decisions? Sometimes I think it is best to just accept and enjoy the world as created. I think The Message‘s interpretation of Psalm 33:4-5 is spot on:

For God’s Word is solid to the core, 
everything he makes is sound inside and out.
He loves it when everything fits, 
when his world is in plumb-line true.
Earth is drenched 
in God’s affectionate understanding.

— Rob

Oct 31 2012

Creepy or God’s Work?

Spiders are a common part of the fall scene. This is one reason they have been associated with Halloween, plus they always seem a little creepy to most of us. Many spiders breed in the fall which is one reason why they are more commonly seen. Our inclination is to judge them as somehow bad and only worth a stomp of the foot or a spray of some pesticide. Spiders are just pests … or are they?

Chuck has often referred to the two books of God, the Bible and Creation. This is not a new concept and has long been part of the tradition of Christianity, likely beginning with Christian scientists between 1600-1800. The Bible itself has something to say about this, such as Psalm 19: 1-4, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out to the ends of the world.”  Paul also wrote in Romans 1:20, “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

So back to spiders (and we could include a whole lot of other critters we don’t understand). We tend to see them with man-centered eyes, rather than seeing the glory of God as written in the book of nature. Look closely at spiders and one has to be amazed. These are the most important predators on earth – both in sheer numbers and diversity of species, spiders outdo any other predator. Would God have formed a world with spiders being so important if they truly were not special in His eyes? These little creatures could not be better adapted to a life connected very closely with every part of our world. Most create webs to capture prey, other small creatures. These webs are engineering marvels with supporting structures stronger than steel – yes, spider silk is stronger than steel if you compare pieces of each at the same size. If we believe that Creation declares the glory of God, then such amazing feats of design and engineering makes perfect sense. Of course spiders are this “smart” – God made them as important links in a nature filled with complex webs of life. God did not make them for us but for a world that is so much more than simply people.

I seem to have a cautious love for spiders. I find them fascinating, but I still find them a bit creepy. I think the big orbweaver webs are stunning, but if I run into one, I panic and act like a man possessed. Even though very few spiders are capable of biting a person, I cannot react calmly to one crawling across my skin.

But I can and do photograph them. There is something remarkable about watching a spider build a web, finding sheet webs decorating your yard’s plants or discovering a spider that has hunted down its prey as surely as a lion hunts its prey. Everything about a spider is adapted to make it perfect for its unique place in the world, from its eight legs to its silk glands (spiders can make seven different types of silk), and these adaptions “display knowledge” of God’s amazing Creation.

— Rob

Aug 15 2012

What Are We Seeing?

Spruce trees are a beautiful part of nature. They stand tall and have a wonderful horizontal branching pattern.

Did you know that in some parts of the world, people cut them down and cover them with strange items made of plastic and some of these items are strange, filmy strips cut from some sort of mylar or something?

I am messing with you a bit. I am talking about a Christmas tree. I love Christmas trees and all the decorations that go on them, including the plastic tinsel. My point is simple – how we look at things, how we “see”, affects our thinking about them and that definitely includes God’s creation.

I was recently at a meeting of native plant enthusiasts. The presenter was talking about keeping a garden wild, and had some great ideas, but she surprised me when she talked about how some people will take a hose to wash the spiderwebs out of their trees and bushes. That never even occurred to me. Those spiderwebs are such a beautiful adornment for the bushes and show how tightly connected the natural world is, even in a garden.

Spiders are amazing creatures, even if we don’t always like them. Frankly, even though I enjoy photographing them and their webs, they do seem a little creepy at times. I don’t know what that is about our nature that makes us feel that way. Yet they are obviously an extremely important part of our world because they are so common. Spiders are the number one predator in the world, and without them, we would be covered with all sorts of bugs that would destroy plant life. There is a very important balance to predators and prey in the environment that works extremely well. And if we are to honor God and His creation, and honor God with the idea that maybe He actually knows what He is doing, we need to acknowledge that even if we don’t always like everything we see, such things are still important.

It does come down to how we see the world.  Paul Baloche wrote a song called “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord”:

“Open the eyes of my heart, Lord,
Open the eyes of my heart.
I want to see You
I want to see You.”

There is much around us, including those silly little spiders in our bushes, that give us a glimpse into the wonder of God’s world, to see God. But we have to open our eyes to see the world, “open the eyes of our heart”, and not allow our very human limitations of sight give us a misleading view of nature.

The webs are made by small sheet web spiders. The spider in the big web is a jeweled araneus orbweaver.

— Rob

May 13 2012

Mirrors of Life

When I was much younger I remember there being a song by Jim Stafford in which he declared “I don’t like spiders and snakes…”  I have a feeling that there are many who feel the same way about these creatures.  For some reason a lot of people hate spiders and snakes.   I will confess that at one time I did too.  I disliked them because I was afraid of them.  Part of this fear was instilled in me by others while I was a child.  Watching horror movies that featured spiders and snakes probably didn’t help either.  I suspect the biggest reason I feared and disliked them was I did not understand them.

In Rob’s last blog on this site he wrote about Death Valley’s pup fish and noted that they are good and valuable, if for no other reason, because God made them and declared them to be good.  The same thing can be said for spiders and snakes, along with any other creature we may deem detestable or unlikeable.  Every creature that exists on the earth is here because the Creator chose to make it.  From this truth we can discern that every creature that exists also has a purpose.  If we would only take the time to learn about those creatures we don’t like we would discover that each one has a beneficial role to play in their respective ecosystem.   We might also be forced to admit they are beneficial to us.

It would help all of us to remember that everything that God has created manifests His glory.  I have been reading a lot lately about Celtic Spirituality.  Last night I came across a Celtic hymn in Carmina Gadelica that included these words: “There is no plant in the ground but is full of His virtue; there is no form in the strand but is full of His blessing.  Jesu!  Jesu!  Jesu!  Jesu! Meet it were to praise Him.  There is no life in the sea; there is no creature in the river, there is naught in the firmament, but proclaims His goodness.  Jesu!  Jesu!  Jesu!  Jesu! Meet it were to praise Him.  There is no bird in the wing, there is no star in the sky, there is nothing beneath the sun, but proclaims His goodness.  Jesu!  Jesu!  Jesu!  Jesu!  Meet it were to praise Him.”

Each of our lives would be enriched if we could come to recognize that everything God made, including spiders and snakes, proclaims His goodness and can lead us to offer praise to Jesus.  With that in mind, I encourage you to pray the prayer Thomas a’Kempis prayed long ago: “Lord God, make my heart straight in your sight, so that every creature will be to me a mirror of life, and a book of holy doctrine, for there is no creature so small or insignificant that it does not show forth and represent the goodness of God.”


(I took the spider, snake and wasp images shown above last week in Big Bend National Park.)


Feb 1 2012

Does God Like Spiders?

I admit it. The title is deliberate. Spiders are something that most people don’t care for. I have not always liked spiders, even though I found them fascinating. But just because we don’t like them does not mean that they are not important and that God does not like them. This applies to a lot of small creatures, not just spiders.

Sometimes I know we feel that if we don’t like something in nature, it is of less value. Certainly spiders are not beautiful … or are they? Do you think God believes they are ugly and creepy? Probably not. After all, when God created “every living thing”, as it says in Genesis, He “saw that it was good.”

The Bible doesn’t talk much about spiders. They are not even mentioned in the book, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. In the King James Version Proverbs 30:28 says, “The spider taketh hold with her hands and is in Kings’ palaces.” In other versions, spider is translated as lizard, but I think the point is still valid. A spider can be taken up with your hands, yet it is also found everywhere, including Kings’ palaces. That’s not so bad for a little creature that has no “riches” or “power.”

Spiders are like so many small creatures that we pay little attention to until they “bother us.” Yet, spiders are one of the most highly adapted predators on earth. They live nearly everywhere and you would be surprised at how many live in any small area of nature. They are a critical part of the balance of nature. When you get to know a little about them, you discover that they make up to seven different kinds of silk and that some of this silk is stronger than steel or Kevlar, plus it gives!

If we are to truly appreciate one of God’s greatest gifts and care for his Creation, then I believe we need to appreciate all of it. Not everyone will like spiders and a lot of other little “creepy-crawlies”, but that does not make them less worthy in God’s eyes. Respect for God’s world cannot stop at just respecting the things we like.

The first photo is a little crab spider, a little hunter on a green eyes flower in Florida. The second is an orbweaver, a trapper from Southern California.

— Rob