by Charles LaFond
The bees of our cathedral are sometimes a lovely set of colonies on our roof, sometimes a political bouncing ball, sometimes a tool for power and control but always a source of rich, dark yellow honey.
Much ink has been spilled wrestling the bees from place to place, and many times these sweet beings have been threatened by administrative power-plays. But they are now safe, and will soon be installed in the gardens, near flowing water and a stone labyrinth, across the front entrance of the cathedral’s great front doors to the city of Denver.
The irony of the little cathedral bee hives being such a political football is hard to miss. Bees sting when angry our frightened, produce lots of sweet honey when happy, and make life on our planet possible by their engagement with the world. Never have I seen a non-human being so similar to humans.
Many religious traditions use bees as a primary symbol of community and often the queen and her colony has been used as a metaphor for God and God’s sentient beings on this planet.
Summer is the season in which bees are their most productive. The population of a hive swells from 10,000 to 100,000 in the summer heat and the queen’s productivity. No longer is their bee-energy being used simply to survive the cold by surrounding the queen and keeping her body warm. They survive like we humans survive. They pull in when attacked, cluster for warmth against the chill of threat and produce when released from threat. It has been a hard year, made all the harder by the realities of church community metaphorically represented by our bees. But what I am learning about church and life is that people, like bees, are lovely most days. They don’t sting, most days. They produce sweet nectar, most days. And they even swarm and leave, sometimes. But they make the planet work. And they are Christ-incarnate – making the church work too, when they are at their best.
In a few months the cathedral will be part of building a fifty-unit apartment for fifty homeless people on our land. This collaboration between the cathedral and The Saint Francis Center for the Homeless is going to be wonderful for our city and for our church. The grant of $10 million came quickly and the cathedral congregation gave 46 additional gifts of $2,500 to furnish each apartment with everything a person could want from spoons to couches, such that we raised 80% of the $150,000 furnishings money in one day. ONE DAY! The bee hives will stand in a park between the cathedral and the new community of formerly homeless people. Water and bees will sit between cathedral and a new apartment complex for the homeless. Saint John’s Cathedral in Denver is amazing and recovering!
Some days, when I am tired or cranky I wonder what Jesus would say to me if I took his hand and walked him around the cathedral. What would he say about a generally empty building? What would he say about our vestry reports and our vestry meetings? What would he make of our liturgy? What would he think of our mission and our meetings? But when I imagine Jesus walking across our street to see the garden, the falling water, the labyrinth for prayer, the benches for rest, the bee hives and soon, the apartments for 50 formerly homeless people I can, in my imagination, imagine a broad smile on his lovely face. Jesus never physically encountered the Book of Common Prayer. But he knew the love in our cathedral and he knew the sweetness of our bees and he knew the power of giving a home to a person sleeping on the streets in terrible heat or rain or cold.
Last year, when we kicked off our cathedral stewardship campaign, we held the launch party on the lawn near the roof on which our bees lived. We served hot croissants, chocolate ganache, Irish butter, raspberry jam and our own cathedral honey. Because the bees could smell the pheromones from their queens and hives, they flew from the roof, and, rather than making a bee-line for the Botanical Gardens, they flew down onto our party, onto the tables where parishioners sat drinking and eating. They buzzed around the congregation and the tables at which they sat. They clustered onto the rims of the honey and honey-comb bowls on the tables forming brownish yellow carpets of bees five thick – giving each bowl a kind of moving, undulating fuzziness – they gathered all over the bowls of honey while parishioners watched with sheer delight. Nobody was afraid and nobody was stung. It was amazing!
Our congregation is, largely, a gentle, kind and loving group – so the bees did not bother them. It’s how bees are made. Its how we are made. Its how churches are, generally, made if we can let go of our egos – the self aggrandizing men so often do out of their insecurities and the shame-harboring women so often do in their griefs. Rather, egoless, we might just stand in the love-light of Jesus like a bee on a petal in the sun of a summer day. And just be. And just bee. And just be for the One Who Is.