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Starting Point

Exodus to the light


This time of year in the South,” Libbie Adams writes, “there are huge garden spiders that build the most magnificent webs and make a little pouch to lay their eggs in. They stay in that web until almost wintertime, at least until a good heavy frost comes, and I love to watch them. I can easily see God’s superior intelligence in the creation of that beautiful spider and her web, and in the way the spider catches flies, grasshoppers and crickets. Nature has implanted within its being all it needs to know to survive.”

“We have another kind of spider,” Libbie writes, “a fat, reddish/brown one who builds a web up high, usually under the eaves, who comes out and builds her web just before sunset. Then, in the early morning, she unwinds it strand by strand, drawing it back into herself before she crawls back into the eaves to sleep the day away. At sunset, she’s busy again, spinning the most amazing masterpiece -- a trap to catch her evening meal.”

Libbie says that seeing God in all of nature has given her a wonderful kinship with it and freed her to enjoy it. She writes that there is no separation among the things God has created and that separation can only exist if we perceive it that way. As my husband so beautifully put it, “Nature is our world, and we have an intuitive sense to learn of and from it.”

Our village was recently invaded by Asian beetles that were introduced in 1916 to devour aphids that were wiping out crops. I had stepped outdoors to appreciate one of the last warm days of the season before winter set in. Within seconds, flying bugs tangled in my hair and crawled in my ears and down the neck of my shirt. Flailing at them, I dashed into the house but not before noting what seemed like thousands of them encrusted on the front of our house like it was a giant beehive. They were beetles that resembled orange and black ladybugs. Everyone in our village was talking about their invasion. They infiltrated everything that had a minute crack or crevice. It reminded me of a biblical pestilence.

That night, while reading in my sitting room, I began to hear a popping, rustling sound overhead. I looked up and right above me, the ceiling was writhing with well over a hundred beetles, drawn to the light of my reading lamp. We have ceilings of antique sculptured tin that have a lot of unsealed crevices and the bugs were getting in through the attic. I flew off the daybed, wondering what to do.

Then, I got an idea. I snapped off the light, plunging the room into darkness and turned the light on in an adjoining closet. Within seconds, it was as if a command was issued, and the beetles swarmed en masse across the ceiling, like an exodus out of Egypt. They gathered on the walls of the closet where I could sweep them down into a dustpan and empty them outside. I’d never witnessed such a dramatic response to the lure of light.

The experience stayed with me as I thought of the compelling power of light. I thought about what it is like to spiritually journey out of darkness into the light of optimism, hope and healing. As dramatically as with the beetles, I realized that beyond our hardships, sorrows and challenges, we are all on an exodus to the light. From deep within the intricate, beautiful and complex webs we weave in our hearts, we are instinctively drawn to the illuminating consolation of prayer, faith and communion with God. It draws us on the darkest night, even when we have lost our way. Always there, always planted within our being, always a reality -- love draws us home as surely as beetles are drawn to light.

Joni Woelfel is the author of Tall in Spirit, The Light Within and Meditations for Survivors of Suicide.

National Catholic Reporter, November 15, 2002