The Bee is the Worship of God

The bee is the worship of God (St Macarius, d. 392AD)

I have posted several accounts about bees through the years, noting how bees are kept in high regard by many spiritual writers in the Orthodox tradition  (see for example:

The Blessing of the Bees

How Sweet It Is to Bee

Flies, Bees and Seeing One’s Own Sin

Three Hierarchs: Apis mellifera 

“Let your works form as it were a honeycomb of sweetness, for virginity deserves to be compared to bees, being so industrious, so modest, so self-controlled.  The bee feeds on dew, it knows no marriage bed, it forms honey.  The dew of the virgin is the divine utterance – because the words of God descend like dew.   ….  Daughter, how I wish you to be an imitator of this little bee whose food is the flower, whose offspring is gathered by mouth and formed by mouth.  Imitate it, daughter.”  (St Ambrose of Milan (d. 397AD), EARLY CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY, pp 93-94)

Bees are used as models of virtue, inspiring us to good behavior.  They are used to teach about the spiritual life, sometimes allegorized to make specific points to help us understand the world as Christians.  They are used to explain the mysteries of God’s own activity in our lives.  Usually it is the honey bee (apis mellifera)  that is being mentioned in these Orthodox writings, but my posts have photos of all kinds of bees, just because I like the bees in general.   The honey bee has been domesticated by humans since the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs.  It is the only insect I know for which there are specific Orthodox prayers asking God to bless them and their hives.

The brother inquired again, “Tell me about constancy in God, my father.” Abba Macarius said to him, “It is like the honeybee flying in the midst of the green plants and the flowers of the field, sucking honey until it fills its hive with what it has gathered: unless someone smokes out the hive, it cannot be robbed of its sweetness.” The brother said to him, “What is the smoke and what is the sweetness, my father?” The old man said to him, “Acts of fornication and defilements and abominations and pollutions and envious thoughts and hatreds and vain imaginings and the remaining pleasures: these are the smoke. The flowers on the other hand are the virtues;

the bee is the worship of God; the hive is the heart; the sweetness itself is our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, the person who shows constancy and who fills his soul with all the virtues and with all purity is the one who demonstrates constancy in God. Go, my child.”   (St. Macarius The Spirit Bearer: Coptic Texts Relating To Saint Macarius, Kindle Location 2409-2418)

A Syrian monk of the 4th Century writes:

“Like a bee that secretly fashions its comb in the hive, so also grace secretly forms in hearts its own love.  It changes to sweetness what is bitter, what is rough into that which is smooth.”  (PSEUDO-MACARIUS: THE FIFTY SPIRITUAL HOMILIES, p 132)

“Look at the bee, how diligently it labors!  It gives of itself without reserve, unsparingly.  The lifespan of a bee is a month and a half at the most.  It often dies working without going back to its home, the hive.  And we?  How we pity ourselves and spare ourselves!  . . .  we give up immediately if things do not go the way we want them to!”  (Elder Thaddeus, OUR THOUGHTS DETERMINE OUR LIVES, p 90)

You can find other of my bee photos at https://www.flickr.com/photos/frted/        Search for bees or bee and click on Search Photos.

The Draw of God

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.  (Psalm 19:1-4)

Looking across Yellowstone Lake at the snow capped mountains and seeing the last quarter moon, I am awed by the beauty of creation.  I can make myself aware that I am also looking at astronomical phenomenon, as well as viewing history, meteorology, geology, biology, chemistry and physics.  And while I can do all of this without any reference to God the Creator, as a believer, the physical cosmos also tells me about the glory of God.  Obviously nature has no words to speak of, but the believer hears its voice, and knows the words and understands the revelation (see Psalm 19).

Science views all of this ‘neutrally’ – it sees nothing but the empirical world, whereas for the believer the physical world is a sign pointing to a greater reality and to a Creator.  For the believer, the world is not neutral, but is a gift from God to us, not just a thing or things, but a gift that reveals the love of the Giver, and that the Giver of the gift is in fact, Love.  It is a gift that we are given to care for and for which we give thanks to the Creator.  The physical world speaks of the spiritual world for they are the same reality, and it invites us to see beyond the mirco- and macro empirical worlds which are the limits of science and to see into the infinite and eternal.

(Psalm 65:1, 5-13)
Praise is due to you . . .  O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas.

By your strength you established the mountains;
you are girded with might.
You silence the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples.

Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.
You visit the earth and water it,
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide the people with grain,
for so you have prepared it.

You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.

You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,

the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy. 

Creation and nature are not ‘neutral’ in their relationship to us, for they do proclaim the glory of God.  They draw us to God, which is what God created them to do.  They all do God’s will naturally, and invite us to do the same.  Creation is not indifferent to our knowing God but rather tells us of God’s glory so that we will embrace our Creator.  Creation draws us to our Creator – a strange reversal of roles in the world of the Fall, for we were created by God to be the mediator bringing all creation to the Creator.

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  (Romans 8:19-23)

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.  (Romans 1:19-23)

We can find similar sentiments in the writings of the philosopher Lucretius who died about 50 years before the birth of Christ.

” . . . we are all born from the same celestial seed; all of us have the same father, from which the earth, the mother who feeds us, receives clear drops of rain, producing from them bright wheat and lush trees, and the human race, and the species of beasts, offering up the foods with which all bodies are nourished, to lead a sweet life and generate offspring . . .”  (De rerum natura, bk. II, lines 991–97)

More of my photos can be viewed at Cincinnati Zoo 2018-6.

On Recreation

Sunset over the Grand Teton mountains

Even the desert fathers believed it necessary to rest and recreate.  Below is story about St. Anthony defending his fellow monks when they once were observed jesting and enjoying themselves by a man who disapproved of such behavior among monks.

So vacations are time to have some fun while enjoying the blessings of God’s creation, even things millions of years old or extinct!

Some have been brought back from near extinction as humans realized we really can have a negative impact on creation or a positive one – human choices and behavior matter.

Even if God takes millions of years to form things, He has all the time in the world to bring His will to fruition.

The animals themselves seem to enjoy frolicking in God’s creation.

So too we humans enjoy God’s creation and each other’s company.

Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park

Though it was June and we saw plenty of snow, not everything white is ice or snow.  The hot springs make beautiful formations from the minerals they spew forth.

Sunrise at Cooke City, Montana, facing west.

From the desert fathers:

“There was somebody in the desert hunting wild animals and he saw Abba Anthony jesting with the brothers.  The elder wanted to convince the hunter that he had to come down to the level of the brothers from time to time.

He said to him: ‘Put an arrow to your bow and draw it.’  He did so.  He said to him: ‘Draw again,’ and he drew.  Again he said, ‘Draw.’  The hunter said to him: ‘If I draw beyond its capacity my bow will break.’  Said the elder to him: “So it is too with the work of God.  If we draw on the brothers beyond their capacity, they will quickly break.  So it is necessary to come down to the level of the brothers from time to time.’

The hunter was conscience-stricken when he heard this and went his way greatly benefitted from the elder.  The brothers withdrew to their place strengthened.”  (GIVE ME A WORD,  pp 33-34)

You can see all the photos I took on my tour of Yellowstone and environs at  2018 Yellowstone Vacation (just click on any icon to view the set of photos).  You can see a select few photos at Yellowstone Favorites and Vacation Favorites.  Meanwhile, back home our best friends awaited our return:

Picturing Psalm 104:29-35

Previous Post: Psalm 104:23-28

When you hide your face, they are dismayed;

when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.

When you send forth your spirit, they are created;

and you renew the face of the ground.
May the glory of the LORD endure forever;

may the LORD rejoice in his works—
who looks on the earth and it trembles,

who touches the mountains and they smoke.

I will sing to the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.

May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the LORD.

Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more.

Bless the LORD, O my soul.
Praise the LORD!

Picturing Psalm 104:11-15

Previous Post: Psalm 104:1-11

giving drink to every wild animal;

the wild asses quench their thirst.

By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation;

they sing among the branches.

From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.

You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,

and plants for people to use,

to bring forth food from the earth,

and wine to gladden the human heart,

oil to make the face shine,

and bread to strengthen the human heart.

Next: Psalm 104:16-22

Unseasonably Springing

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We have had a cold spring in our area.  Winter has held on to the temperatures and brought us snow flurries, while the song birds are heralding spring in trees which are budding while flowers have appeared in fields and flower beds.

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So when the day seemed even remotely springlike, I took my camera and walked the paths at Cox Arboretum.   The weather may not be springing, but I tried to put a little spring in my walk.

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I did see my first caterpillar, ant and  (my favorite) bee of the season – welcome signs of spring.

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In the Orthodox Church we frequently pray for “seasonable weather” which perhaps in our modern minds shaped by media weather reports translates into average or normal weather, though in our hearts we want it to be at least fair weather, preferable good or nice.

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But there is an old Arab saying which has it that “All sun makes a desert.”  We need the rain, clouds and cool weather to make our gardens grow.

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“Unseasonably.”  This to me is a strange word in the vocabulary of media meteorologists.  In the middle of winter they might say on the coldest night of the year that it is “unseasonably cold.”  They seem to mean it is below average in temperature, but in what other season except for winter would we have those bone chilling temperatures?

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We seem to have had an unseasonably cold spring this year, though I don’t know if the weather data would affirm that or whether we have been well within what is normal for this time of the year.

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A little ditty, I remember from my youth:  “Whether the weather be fine, or whether the weather be not, it’s not a matter of weather or not.  Whatever the weather, we’ll weather the weather, whether we like it or not.”   Searching on the Internet, I see that limerick has many avatars, none of them exactly as I remember it.

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You can find all of my photos from my walk at  2018-4-26 Cox Arboretum.   Despite the weather, the birds keep singing every morning.

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Two of Every Sort of Animal

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The story of Noah taking the animals in the ark mentions at one point taking two of each kind of animal with him.

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But the Noah narrative is actually made of two versions of the story woven together in one tapestry and makes no effort to harmonize the two versions.  The other version mentions taking seven pairs of clean animals and birds.

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When the animals follow Noah into the ark as if he is the chief shepherd to all animals, it is the first time in Scripture that the animals are said to follow the dominion of humans.

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The story portrays humans and animals in a harmonious relationship with humans having proper dominion over the animals.

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Inside the ark itself the story suggests another paradise with humans and animals living peaceably together, though outside the ark the raging waters will threaten death to all.

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“And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.

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Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you, to keep them alive.

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Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them.”  (Genesis 6:19-21)

The ark was to be a protective storehouse of plants and animals that God would keep safe from the chaotic torrential downpour that would inundate the world.  As destructive as the deluge might be, God was preserving all the species on earth.

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What a menagerie of animals was brought together – just like in Paradise.

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“… they and every beast according to its kind, and all the cattle according to their kinds, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth according to its kind,

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and every bird according to its kind, every bird of every sort. They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life.

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And they that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the LORD shut him in. ” (Genesis 7:14-16)

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All of the above photos were taken at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.  You can view all of my photos from there at SDZSP 2018 .   Photos from a previous visit are at SDZSP 2012.

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2017 A Few Favorites

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While most people published their favorites lists for 2017 weeks ago, I’m just now getting around to sharing a few of my favorites from among the photos  took in 2017.  Above:  nature itself shows us that creatures are competitive in survival.  No “Disneyfication” of nature.  I love watching the birds at the feeder in winter, but love is not the default mode for them.  They compete for survival.  Only humans are capable of the Christian love which takes us beyond our genes and self-preservatoin into the realm of free will and choice and love.  Self-denial turns out to be a key in what it is to be human.

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Even as the storm approached at sunset, I could see beauty in the world.  It was early spring and the leaves were not yet out.  There was a chill in the air – but the colors were eye catching.  I enjoyed the moment – literally the moment, for many things pass away quite quickly in life even when we feel they last for a long time.

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Spring comes and I am glad for it.  I am not a winter person.  Spring bursts forth with life and hues and scents, all speaking of life and the Creator.  I’ve paid far more attention to these details since having a camera.

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Sunrises and sunsets are stunningly wonderful to observe.  They can be awe inspiring, and yet because they are a daily occurrence, they seem invisibly mundane to so many.  No wonder the ancients felt dawn and dusk were hours of prayer.

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From the smallest of creatures comes great things.  We forget how dependent we are on insects for example to pollinate plants for our food.  We stomp on them for the fun of it, and otherwise ignore them thinking we could live without them.

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There are human wonders as well at which I marvel.  Humans have been gifted to do marvelous things through math, science, engineering, art and architecture.  We are capable of great works and of creating things not only pragmatic, but beautiful.

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And I often just enjoy whatever it is I am blessed to see on a given day.  Nothing special, and yet everything is special.  You can view all of my favorite 2017 photos at Fr. Ted’s 2017 Favorites.  Favorites don’t necessarily mean “best” –  they are personally the ones I enjoy the most.

The Sun – Serving God and Humans

“… the sun knows its time for setting.
You make darkness, and it is night,

when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.

The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.

When the sun rises, they withdraw

and lie down in their dens.

People go out to their work
and to their labor until the evening.

O LORD, how manifold are your works!

In wisdom you have made them all;

the earth is full of your creatures.

(Psalm 104:19-24)

Springing to Life

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It has been pretty chilly in this part of the world lately.  We had some warmer days in February!  Above a wild Dwarf Iris.  Outstandingly beautiful.

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Above, another view of the Dwarf Iris.  A marvelous wild flower, which like many flowers can be viewed for only a short time before the flowers disappear.  Generally in the Bible the flower is a symbol of fading or temporary beauty.

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Peonies are cultivated and have flowers that do last a short while.

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The center of the Peony – the purpose of flowers is to produce seeds, not just beauty.  We cultivate flowers for their colors, shapes and fragrances.  In nature those attributes are needed more to attract pollinators.

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I was totally enamored by the color of the cones of the Weeping Blue Spruce above.

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Looking down on the Spring Larkspur it had a geodesic dome shape.

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Dogwoods were still in bloom the day I did my short walk at the Cox Arboretum.  You can see all my photos at Cox Arboretum, April 2017.