A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Learning from Bears and Bees

Fr Tom Ryan

“‘It's like this,’ Pooh said. ‘When you go after honey with a balloon, the great thing is not to let the bees know you're coming. Now, if you have a green balloon, they might think you were only part of the tree, and not notice you, and if you have a blue balloon, they might think you were only part of the sky, and not notice you, and the question is: Which is most likely?’ 

‘Wouldn’t they notice YOU underneath the balloon?’ Christopher Robin asked. ‘They might or they might not,’ said Winnie-the- Pooh. ‘You never can tell with bees’”(AA Milne, Winnie-the- Pooh).

True. Pooh underestimates his (considerable) visibility floating upwards to get honey. But about bees disturbed being unpredictable? Rightly, “you never can tell with bees.” 

It’s only natural. Aren’t we the same with intruders? Wouldn’t we rush to defend our turf against an invader – such as Pooh’s hand in the tree trunk’s hive, grabbing a honeycomb?  

Honeybees rarely sting and only if they are provoked. They can swarm. But this form of defence comes when they are really agitated and under threat. 

But there’s more to bees than honey and stings, as we are reminded in a homely piece in CathNews 20th March 2017 from The Southern Cross: Sandra Ulrich has been maintaining a beehive in inner city Adelaide for the past three years. “The environment reflects their personality – they are incredibly gentle, bees. And they have something to teach us.”

Beekeeping in monasteries and religious life has a long history. Sandra notes how we can learn from the way a bee colony is organised. “It’s a very altruistic, democratic society, where everyone works for the common good,” she says. “Every bee has something to offer, whether it be communication, gathering food, creating a nest, or caring for their young.” Sandra also observed that you could sit and watch the bees for hours and that they can be a source of calm and meditation. So, bees remind us to stand and ponder God’s creation, as Welsh poet RW Thomas reminds us in his poem Leisure. 

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare. 

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