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Saturday, 5 August 2017

The Bee

A few weeks ago, Sarah, my toddler, discovered a dying bee in our garden. The bee's wings had been damaged by the stormy rain of the previous night and so it had resigned itself to crawling across our patio. Sarah was fascinated. We sat together and watched the bee a while. I explained to her what it was and she - delighted with her recent ability to speak and thus to put names to things - happily repeated bee bee bee bee beeeeeee to herself over and over again.

I got bored before she did. 

Close-up of Bee on Purple FlowerThere were things to be done in the house so I headed back inside and insisted that she do the same. As our garden is almost entirely made of concrete, and steps, I don't tend to let Sarah play outside by herself, but I had forgotten to shut the back door and so - unbeknownst to me - she tottered back onto the patio. I returned to the dishes. A few minutes later, I heard bee bee bee bee beeeeeeee being joyfully squealed at the top of her little voice. I hurtled out towards the garden thinking only that Sarah's new bee obsession with going to end in anaphylactic shock. But she was sat perfectly still with the bee cupped in her hand. In fact, she was stroking its tiny, furry little back with her finger. I panicked, launched myself at her, and forced the poor, geriatric bee back onto the patio. Sarah looked up at in mild surprise and confusion and continued to say only bee bee bee bee beeeeeee.  

We sat together a little while longer then, and I tried to see what Sarah saw: not the network of anxious possibilities that adults tend to associate with almost everything, but a thing of wonder, a thing of beauty. This bee was quite the most wonderful thing she had ever encountered. With his battered wings as thin and fragile as perforated clingfilm, zigzagged with black stitches like the veins of a leaf; his strange, shiny, bulbous black eyes, knobbly knee caps and fluffy stripes - this bee was beautiful. This bee had made her day, and in doing so, he was making mine, simply by being himself. 

In The Divine Dance, Richard Rohr writes, "All things give glory to God just by being what they are." His words remind me of Irenaeus's much quoted phrase, "The glory of God is man fully alive." I am not quite sure what either of these men mean, but I think it is something to do with Sarah's bee. The bee - by being a bee - is a testament to the goodness and creative ingenuity of the Creator God. The bee is glorifying God by being itself, by doing the things a bee does. But, there is more. In the wide-eyed glee of being 18 months old, Sarah participates in that glory in a way that I have forgotten how to do. She is more fully alive than I. And not simply because she is younger, but because she has not learned yet how to shut her eyes to wonder. She has not learned yet how to ignore the astounding beauty of the world we live in - and all that lives within it - because other things seem more pressing and important.

In writing about how we reclaim the gift of wonder, Brennan Manning writes, "The spirituality of wonder knows the world is charged with grace, that while sin and war, disease and death are terribly real, God's loving presence and power in our midst are even more real." I do know this. I know it in a theoretical way, but I am forgetful. I forget to see the charge of grace as is electrifies the flat white coffee to my left, and the intricate artistry of the man's tattoos who stands to my right; as it pulses through the smiles of the young couple opposite me, and laces its way through each creative detail of this place that makes it my favourite coffee shop in Liverpool.

Annie Dillard, again speaking from outside the Christian bubble, articulates this more clearly than I can: "We are here to witness creation and to abet it. We are here to notice each thing so that each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other...otherwise creation would be playing to an empty house." 

The house is not empty, but the residents are asleep. We walk through our days in dreary slumber with eyes half shut. We forget to stop and take notice. 

Wake up, sleeper, (Ephesians 5:14, Isaiah 60:1) and remember:

Earth's crammed with heaven, 
And every common bush afire with God, 
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries
And daub their natural faces unaware.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, "Aurora Leigh"

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