The silk produced by the Darwin’s bark spider in Madagascar is 10 times tougher than Kevlar. It is the world’s toughest known biological material.

Scientists have so far identified 200,000 distinct spider silks, sophisticated proteins of stunning elasticity and strength. Woven together, these silken strands become the web, a marvel of engineering — home, hunting ground and nursery.

The gentlest touch on a single strand will shiver down the entire web, rippling throughout its intricate geometry to the center. The strength of the web is its integrity, its wholeness.

The silk produced by the Darwin’s bark spider in Madagascar is 10 times tougher than Kevlar. It is the world’s toughest known biological material.

Scientists have so far identified 200,000 distinct spider silks, sophisticated proteins of stunning elasticity and strength. Woven together, these silken strands become the web, a marvel of engineering — home, hunting ground and nursery.

The gentlest touch on a single strand will shiver down the entire web, rippling throughout its intricate geometry to the center. The strength of the web is its integrity, its wholeness.

Humans are also builders. Tinkerers and toolmakers, driven by unquenchable curiosity, we erect cathedrals and dams, design cell phones and sailboats. From our earliest days, we have also been driven by a compulsion to take things apart — deconstruct them to see how they tick. We include ourselves enthusiastically in this fascination with dissection. As our tools become more complex, our ability to deconstruct ourselves has accelerated. We are able to tease out smaller and smaller strands of our being and put them under microscopes or though chemical analyses.

Through our lenses we discover, as the Psalmist writes, that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” In various biblical versions, ‘fearfully’ is translated as ‘strangely and delicately formed,’ ‘ remarkable,’ ‘amazing,’ ‘miraculous,’ and ‘awesome.’ If, however, in our fascination with manipulating the parts, we forget that they are elements of a whole being, even with the best of intentions, we have chosen a fraught road. Because we are able take ourselves apart, shake the pieces and rearrange them, we risk considering ourselves as things that can be reduced to parts. We can begin to think of ourselves in terms of bolts and batteries, conductors and wires, hard drives and software.

Focusing on these individual strands can blind us to the higher reality — the wholeness of the web.

To divide the human person into separate parts, to fragment the creation that works in such a miraculous and interconnected way, risks mechanizing it, moving it from life to non-life. Tinkering at such an esoteric level tempts us to trespass into unknown territory, where we can create something blurrily like humanity, but is only a simulacrum of humanity, a Frankenstein creature of parts.

In Benedictine thought, wholeness, health and respect for persons are not separate values. Like a beautiful Celtic knot, they are seamlessly interwoven. Can one truly be whole without respecting others? Can one be truly healthy as a compartmentalized creature? Can respect for others thrive in a sick and shattered soul?

This is the essential reason that the University of Mary weaves the Benedictine value of ‘respect for persons’ into all aspects of its student experience. The human is an awe-inspiring wonder, to be respected and reverenced. When we educate our students, among them the next generations of health care professionals, the Benedictine value of respect for persons goes with them. They carry forward the conviction that each person they meet is not a construction of parts, but a soul, indivisible and whole.

We endeavor to teach them during their time here that their every touch plucks the strand of a marvelous web that carries an infinite reverberation.