—by Susan Sparks

People can usually be divided into simple categories: beach people vs. mountain people, salt lovers vs. sugar cravers, those who believe Sasquatch exists vs. those who don’t, and the most common division (certainly the most personal to me): those who hate spiders vs. those who hate snakes.

Me? I hate spiders. I would rather swim in a bucket of copperheads than be in the same zip code as the tiniest garden spider. Growing up, I hated hearing Charlotte’s Web. I will never watch a Spiderman movie. And I get cold chills every time I walk past a glimmering, shimmering web. In short: Spiders. Are. My. Enemy.

I had a personal encounter with the enemy one cold May morning last year. Nestled under my electric blanket in the bedroom of our 110-year-old uninsulated Norwegian cabin in northern Wisconsin, I was happily dozing, in an I-don’t-have-to-get-up haze, when suddenly I had the feeling that someone was watching me. Opening my eyes, I saw what looked like an eight-legged avocado. His eyes stared at me with a vicious evil, and I knew, just knew, that I was about to die.

I threw off the covers, screamed bloody murder and ran into the kitchen to get my husband, Toby (who has no problem with spiders or snakes), to deal with the intruder. Of course, when he marched into the bedroom with the mini-vac, the evil avocado was nowhere to be found.

Feeling defeated, I returned to the kitchen to warm myself by the woodstove and plot revenge. How dare that creature deny me my warm bed! My fingers tapped the mini-vac as I contemplated his demise. As I was about to head into the bedroom for another flyby, Jesus’ words from the book of Matthew came into my head, with wording a little different than I was used to: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemy—the spiders—and pray for those spiders that persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).

It’s rare that I call out Jesus as wrong, but I knew there must have been an error in transmission.

Love a spider? Never. Not doing it.

Eventually, I got too cold in the kitchen and decided to return to my warm bed (with the mini vac just in case). As I sank down under the toasty blanket, I started thinking about Jesus’ words. Love your enemies, I get. But pray for them? I went through my list of personal enemies to see whether I could:

The next-door neighbor with the yappy dog? Sure, I could pray for her.

The guy who cut me off in traffic yesterday? Yeah, I could pray for him.

Politicians and political parties with whom I disagree? Sigh. Yes, in a pinch.

Spiders? [Long pause] Let’s try.

This article is excerpted from the July/August 2018 issue of Gather magazine. To read the full story or more like it, subscribe to Gather.

The Rev. Susan Sparks is a trial lawyer turned preacher, stand-up comedian, author and speaker at the 2014 Women of the ELCA Triennial. Learn more and read her blog at SusanSparks.com