I am a collector of webs.
If it rained the night before, the webs are easier to see, because the water catches the light in a way the filaments can't. It's the water I see, not the web: tiny beads strung closely together along each strand. They don't come off when I touch them, or even wet my finger. And so the water reveals the presence of invisible worlds all around me—worlds I can feel, worlds I can wear, but hardly ever see—like the birds' nests that appear every fall, sitting on the branches like the mummies of spirits, baskets woven from the hair and bones of angels.
The first Puritan settlements looked just like them: the edges of deeds radiating out from the center where the minister sat, penning his perfect web of words. Ah, but then the rain came, and the web began to sag under its weight. By inscribing the architecture of their world in the land, by putting it to the plow, the saints and their deeds had also twisted it; and before too long, a bead turned into a drop, another, a third. And pretty soon all the saints were falling out of God's nest into the great drawing body of the land, the wilderness of their own ambition. It was their hand, finally, that would sweep the web away, reducing it to a cinder, consuming it out of the good land to which they had come.
"A Ministry" comes out of (1) hiking with my dog (now plural) on the Appalachian Trail, and (2) reading more books by and about Puritans than is probably healthy. I think the allegory was triggered by reading Richard L. Bushman's excellent From Puritan to Yankee (Harvard UP, 1968). After writing the piece, I could swear I'd seen an actual image of the map of a Puritan town that conformed to what I imagined. But I could never locate that image. Which means, I think, that I invented the map via imagining the allegory. There's something so right about that. I should note that the last phrase is a near-quotation from John Winthrop's "A Model of Christian Charity."