Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bees, Pollen & the Parish!

Catchy title, eh?
I've been thinking about bees a lot.  This may seem very odd, so let me explain a bit and then take the bee metaphor in a new direction.

Why bees?  First, we have a wonderful stained glass window of bees and their hive in our church breezeway between the sacristy and the rectory.  I look at it often. Many Benedictine monasteries raised bees for pollination and honey. In France some beekeepers even attach a medal of St. Benedict to their hives, although St. Ambrose is generally considered the patron saint of beekeepers in most places.

Here's a photo of our breezeway "hive" window, thanks to Fr. Paul:

Secondly, the bee has been admired from Biblical days for its industry and usefulness to humans.  (See the reproduction of an Italian Exsultet scroll, The Praise of the Bees, below.) Honey was the only insect product considered kosher in the Hebrew Scriptures. My wife's name is Debra - Hebrew for honeybee, so her name is a reminder to me everyday!  A parishioner just reminded me that the very term for the Promised Land - the land flowing with milk and honey - is bee-based. Also, Psalm 118 often comes up in the Liturgy of the Hours - "they compassed me about like bees;" whenever I pray that line now I immediately think of my time in Kenya. Bees were everywhere in the little village I lived in, sometimes in huge, scary swarms!

Thirdly, the Exsultet - that amazing, ancient hymn of praise the deacon sings at the Easter Vigil - mentions bees.  Remember the Exsultet is part of the Celebration of Light focused on the Paschal Candle. That candle is made from beeswax.  Here are the pertinent "bee" words in bold, generally omitted from the English translations:

Accept this Easter candle,
a flame divided but undimmed,
a pillar of fire that glows to the honor of God.

For it is fed by the melting wax,
which the mother bee brought forth
to make this precious candle.

But here's what "bee" thought dawned on me today as I was walking, thinking about our Faith:

The teachings of Christ are pollen,
the Faithful are bees,
the parish is the hive,
and our honey is for the world!

Here's what I mean:
Giving little pieces of Christ's Teachings to lots of people is much more important than giving huge amounts to a few.  Pollen!

No one has to know too much, just as much as he/she can fly with.  Bees!

We bring it to our parish and work on it together, especially at shared liturgy.  Hive!

Together in Christ, we leave the world a sweeter place.  Honey!

Now this may not seem profound to you, in fact, perhaps it even seems a bit child-like. But that's ok with me! In fact, I always consider "child-like" a theological compliment.

I can see the effect of two books I have just read. Neither mentioned bees, but both have stretched me to think more practically about catechetics and ministry this week. At St. Jerome Book Club on Sunday we discussed Stephen Prothero's Religious Illiteracy: What Every American Needs to Know - And Doesn't and I just completed Larry Osborne's Sticky Church. Neither book is specifically Catholic, in fact, Osborne is the "lead pastor" at North Coast Church, CA, which I assume is a non-denominational (Protestant) church. No theology in either book really, just observations on "how" people learn about Christianity. I can see how the confluence of these four - bees, Book Club, Prothero and Osborne - has led to my observation.

Like all satori moments, the truth has been there all along, but I am suddenly catching up with it. The Church builds herself provided we allow people to find their pollen, fly with it, chew on it together, and share it!  I see much wisdom here about ecclesiology and charisms. 

I will redouble my efforts at the parish to help us share our pollen.
Thanks be to God for the bees compassing me about!

The Praise of the Bees
The Barberini Exultet Roll, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City).