I wish I could say I decided to keep bees as a gift to our planet or even for the honey. But the truth is that keeping bees was the closest I could get to living inside that movie about their “Secret Life…”. I knew it wasn’t a real life, but I still yearned to sleep out in the Honey House, eat homemade peach pie on lazy summer days down south, and be part of the proud sisterhood played by Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, and Jennifer Hudson. The next best thing to being there was inviting some bees to my house in the city, so I did, and quickly fell in love.
August Boatwright, the movie’s veteran bee-keeper, says that loving the bees is essential, because “every little thing just want to be loved.” Loving them isn’t hard to do, once you stop fearing them. You can’t do both at once—you can’t love while fear is holding your heart hostage, and you can’t feel afraid if love has taken hold there. My bees have taken hold there.
Besides loving them, says August, you mustn’t swat at them, and when you’re tending them, you should act like you know what you’re doing even if you don’t. This is all good advice for anyone’s life, but it’s especially helpful in my work as a pastor. I’m proud to say that throughout all of my 27 years in the church, I’ve never swatted a single church member, and I’ve tried very hard to send each one of them the love in which God holds them always.
The bees aren’t just loveable; they’re admirable, too. They seem utterly unselfconscious, completely focused, and lost in their work. I’m always watching myself to see “how I’m doing,” wondering what I’ll get for my effort, but the bees seem blissfully un-distracted by self-concern of any type. They live to make honey and more bees. And their cooperation is just amazing. They actually dance atop the hive to show the rest of the colony where pollen may be found, the particular choreography of a dance indicating the direction of the source.
So it turns out the bees are keeping me more than I’m keeping them. A poem by Antonio Machado tells of his dream that a beehive was inside his heart, where “the golden bees were making white combs and sweet honey” from his old failures. Their quiet sweetness is surely infusing my soul, asking me to slow down, pay attention, move gently, and love the fragile things. That may be all anyone needs to heal from the past, trust the future, and surrender to the wonder of right here and now.