A Tribute to Charlotte
Did you ever read a novel as a child that you knew would be near and dear to you for the rest of your life? Charlotte’s Web is one such book for me. And so, in September 2008, when Parkdale was first introduced to this years interconnectedness theme, ‘Webbed Together’, I was half expecting Anthony to give a sermon that referenced Charlotte’s Web.
When I arrived at home, I immediately googled ‘Charlotte’s Web’, the classic childrens novel by E.B. White. For those who have never had the pleasure of reading the book, it is a charming animal fable about a talking barn spider named Charlotte, who befriends a pig that is slated for the slaughterhouse.
It is a story of relationships, friendship and compassion, woven together in themes that grow naturally from the interactions of its interconnected characters. As I read the website’s plot description, I quickly realized that the story is a well-written metaphor for stewarding our human relationships.
Like Jesus who befriended the outcasts in society, Charlotte is very intentional in befriending the runt pig, Wilbur. From the very beginning, Charlotte is gracious toward this very different creature, greeting him warmly, saying, “Salutations!”. This is not unlike the Bible, which commands us to love our neighbor and tells us to be wise in the way that we act toward outsiders. We are also told to be good stewards of our words and to let our conversations be always full of grace (Colossians 4:6).
Recognizing that we are our brothers’/sisters’ (friends’) keeper, Charlotte soon uses her Creator-given web-spinning gifts to help her friend Wilbur. As their friendship deepens, her efforts to save Wilbur’s life become a lesson in selfless love that demonstrates the beauty of true friendship and sacrifice.
One of Charlotte’s first web messages is ‘Terrific’, inviting others to see Wilbur as God sees him – a beloved creation with whom they should consider rethinking their relationship. Charlotte spins other messages, including ‘Radiant’, perhaps an invitation to all to radiate Gods abiding love for us and let our light shine so that we can help to bless those around us.
Relationships are certainly a wonderful part of life. God has built into us the very desire to reach out and connect with other people. Indeed, our relationships with our families and friends are a vital source of support, and a reminder of our interconnections.
We need to be good stewards of our relationships, showing appreciation for others, considering the impacts of our actions on others, and asking for forgiveness where necessary. We should be honest about problems that arise, and ask for advice or support if needed. Relationships require work by all parties, and a deep sense of caring.
Later, when Wilbur asks if he should be worried about his fate, Charlotte uses her gift of encouragement to restore her friend’s faith. She tells him not to be afraid, and that help will come from above. If this sounds somewhat familiar, it is probably because of the Bible’s 365 reminders to us to ‘fear not, because the Lord is with us.
Reminiscent of Christ’s resurrection, Charlotte uses her last ounce of energy in a selfless act of love that will save Wilbur’s life. Her final web message is “Humble” – a reminder to us all that it is good to be humble in all of our relationships. In fact, the Bible tells us to be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. It also instructs us to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:2-3, NIV).
To wrap up his ‘Webbed Together’ sermon, Anthony made his point about our interconnectedness as children of God by tossing balls of coloured wool into the congregation. We were invited to pass them to our neighbors all across the pews.
When the church service ended, a fellow worshipper motioned to me to break the bonds of that tangled web of wool that connected us all. I was reminded that sometimes it is best to break the bonds when we become entangled in unhealthy and abusive relationships. But no matter how tangled and imperfect our life becomes, our bond with God will never be broken. Like Charlotte, He is always watching over us with messages of hope and inviting us into an even deeper relationship with Him.
Barbara Hennessy, Chair