When I told my oldest daughter, Cas, that we were getting bees last year, she was thrilled. I was worried that the girls would be scared of the bees, or would treat them in a way that would lead to stinging, so I talked about them with Cas. I told her about the bees, shared some of the interesting things I learned from my book on beekeeping, talked about the honey we would get from the bees. I got my hive boxes and frames and explained how the bees formed honeycomb. Cas helped me set up the hive box, even leaving a flower and a leaf as a present for the bees inside their new home. The day we picked up our package of bees Cas went with me. While the bees hung out in the garage before I put them in their new hive, Castine danced for them with a ribbon wand.
That excitement over our bees is still present. All Summer long we were thrilled together to see the bees buzzing around our backyard. We keep a water-table on our back porch for the girls to play with, and bees were constantly visiting it in droves to drink and carry water back to the hive; Cas and I got to study the bees up close there, watching them drink, saving many from drowning and mourning quite a few we did not manage to rescue. For Halloween the girls dressed up as bees, and I was the beekeeper. We were adorable.
That made it all the sadder when I had to inform Cas that our bees did not survive the Winter.
This is, unfortunately, a common thing. Hives of bees, both wild and kept, are dying in staggering numbers. My beekeeping mentor, who has been doing this for forty-some years now, lost all four of his hives this winter. Colony collapse disorder, they call it. Scientists are searching for an answer. Is it an infection? Parasites? Pesticides? Climate change? Environmental changes? The answer seems to be all of the above.
And this is very bad news for us. Of the food we eat, one third of it is wholly reliant on insect pollination. Of that one third, 80% of the pollinating is done by honeybees. The prevalence of colony collapse is a danger to our entire way of living, of staying alive. No honeybees, no food.
I believe that when God created the world and everything in it, God knew what he was doing. Creation is designed in such a way that everything depends on everything else. No creature, us included, survives in a vacuum. For better or worse, we are all in relationship with one another.
Honeybees demonstrate the importance of right relationship with our fellow creatures in this world.
Perhaps this is why God points to the overabundance of honey in the Promised Land. In Exodus 3, God promises Moses that the Israelites will be led out of slavery in Egypt and into a land flowing with milk and honey. (Exodus 3:17) In a civilization that had not yet learned how to safely and effectively keep bees (something we’ve only figured out in the last couple centuries), honey would have been a rare treat. What’s more, in a civilization without refined white granulated sugar, honey would have been the sweetest food imaginable. So by promising an enslaved people a land flowing with honey, God was promising them a life of abundance beyond their wildest dreams.
But let’s dive into it a little more deeply. What would it take for a land to flow with honey? This is the question Margaret Feinberg put to Gary, a professional beekeeper, in her book, Scouting the Divine. In her words:
“God promised his people a land where everything was in top working order. This was a land abounding in fruitful pastures and efflorescent vegetation. This was a land functioning in its proper, God-designed rhythms. The result was natural abundance. The description “overflowing with honey” offers a glimpse into what God desires and promises us all- an invitation for us to taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Can you imagine living in such a land?
I believe that the Promised Land still lies before us. The work of redemption is the movement of creatures back into right relationship; right relationship with God, with each other, with our selves, and with the rest of Creation. This is the work done through Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit in our lives, and through our lives into the lives of others.
We need to be more mindful of this Creation, and this calling to participate with God in the ministry of redemption, the ministry of reconciliation. I believe the Promised Land still lies before us, and I also believe that I’m not going to wait till I get to the Promised Land to live like I’m already there. As Jesus said, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. (Matthew 3:2)
I was surprised at how much I missed the bees in my backyard. I planted daffodils and tulips last Fall because I knew they would be the first blooms of the year, and that my bees would be hungry for fresh nectar after the long Winter months. Alas, my flowers went unvisited. I have missed looking out my window and seeing the bees busily coming and going at the hive. There have been no visitors dropping by to see us on the back porch.
Which is why I went ahead and got more bees. I can’t live without them (literally). When Cas saw the new package of bees, she said, “Those are very good bees.”
I sure hope so. I’m a bee-liever.
 Feinberg, Margaret. Scouting the Divine: My Search for God in Wine, Wool, and Wild Honey. Zondervan. Grand Rapids. 2009. 144.