Each bee senses that her one obligation is to give the smallest motion of her flight muscles to the collective work of keeping the queen and the colony’s honey stores warm. The whole hive knows they survive only if they shiver together.
Some of them in the shivering cluster will die of old age. Had they hatched in the flowering season, their labor for the hive’s survival – harvesting nectar and pollen from as many as two thousand flowers a day – would have killed them in four weeks or less, their wings worn to nubbins. But hatched on the cusp of winter, they may live six months. They will know only the dark hive, the press of their sisters’ bodies. They will never fly, never fall into a flower. They give their lives to shivering together in the dark, the tiny repetitive gestures of each, added together, a music beyond our hearing, sustaining a future for the community.
- from “Honey Bee” in All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings by Gayle Boss
My kids buzzed around the dining room table covered with a crowd of mismatched candles. Darkness deepened outside the window and the wood stove breathed its warm breath in the far corner as we read Gayle Boss’s description of how honey bees endure winter.
The bees, huddled in the hive, ‘shiver’ their tiny flight muscles, located just above their wings, to create life-saving warmth.
“One honey bee shivering her flight muscles does not make much heat. But twenty thousand, huddled together, shivering, can keep the queen and the colony’s honey supply at their core a tropical ninety-two degrees Fahrenheit, even as blizzard winds, inches away, flail. . .”
Wow. This was impressive, we all agreed. But then, Boss went on to describe the bees, “hatched on the cusp of winter” who will, quite possibly, never see the outside of the hive. Those bees that “give their lives shivering together in the dark.”
“What?!” we said. “Can you even imagine?” we asked.
Then we prayed and argued (as always) about who would get to blow out the candles.
This past week – between an ailing car, a dying washing machine, and some questionable medical results - we had our own little season of stress. It felt like winter was here and, with it, darkness both deep and wide. My husband and I wondered how to keep our hope, our faith, from freezing over while the ordinary blizzards of life beat against our little hive.
Messaging with our Pastor, he mentioned the passages for Sunday’s sermon spanned five hundred years between Isaiah’s prediction of salvation and John the Baptist’s proclamation. “God delivers,” he wrote, “just as promised . . . five hundred years earlier . . .”
This is what I thought of when we read about the winter bees – all those people, shivering together in darkness, keeping faith alive in the hope that someday hope would become reality. Five hundred years of generations lighting candles, telling stories, waiting, watching for the moment when the world would tilt toward new rays of light and life.
I thought about my own faith, so quick to cool when the waiting is long, so short-sighted and dependent on knowing in the here and now. What can I learn from those bees, made for spring breezes and blossoms? Does the dream of a future they cannot even imagine and will never taste keep them alive? And, just as important, who is shivering still, in the darkness now? How can I partner with those still waiting, working, for light and life that has come and is still yet to come?
Our winter passed fairly quickly – a friend delivered a washing machine this Monday and I did up the waiting piles of laundry with a welcome sigh of relief. John’s sister and father worked together to gift us with a new-to-us car, one much newer and nicer than any we’ve ever owned.
Crisis averted, thanks be to God.
Still, I think about those bees, and the reply I sent my Pastor last week. “I’ve been thinking,” I wrote, “that faith is something like the belief that everything will turn out better than you thought it could, but different than you expected, coupled with the acceptance that the thing you have been longing for, the thing you hoped for most, may not happen in your own lifetime."
I imagine there were times (and are times still) when this description of faith would not sit well with me. As an intellectual prospect, it seems both valid (biblical) and also terribly unsettling. But faith is rarely warmed by intellectual assent. When I wrote those words to my Pastor, I knew them to be true, by the golden glow of something deep in my heart. Like the bees, I know now this is my job, to give my life to keeping that golden center warm and soft, no matter what the weather may bring.