For the past several years, as most everyone on the planet, I have been on somewhat of a journey. At certain moments in the journey I have wondered if there is anything worth sharing. In a world permeated with information, why bother adding to the vortex of existential reflection? Over the past few years, I have done some thinking that could be worth at least the time it takes to post, so I’ll share. And, of course, we live in a world free to chose from where information is to come.
Deciding where to start is likely the most difficult question to address. Maybe it’s a bland beginning, but I thought it could be interesting to reflect on the life of bees theologically.
Harkening back to my childhood, I remember being deeply moved by Moody Science videos. Though I do not fully comprehend the spectrum of methodology within entomology, I can definitely tell bees have a comprehensive sense of purpose and order in their lives. They support a mother bee, giving life or limb for community and temporal kingdom. From the video, I remember how the bees maintained a very structured cadence for daily life. They even remember exactly which hive they belong to, a commitment never taken lightly.
On to the homiletical thrust? In a moment. Allow me to briefly describe events of the past few months; only after this breviary on current endeavors can the homiletical observations abound.
The past six months have been a flurry of change for me and for many who are relationally proximate. If I had to pick the beginning, it would likely be around March or April of this year, 2012, at which point I was doing some research in ministerial candidacy positions within several different denominations. I was open to several options, and several opportunities presented themselves, though none were strong enough to capture my attention and full interest. I did not feel quite ready to move across the country or state. At that time I had also applied to a Master of Divinity program at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, where I was about to graduate with a Master of Arts degree. If I received the scholarship I could fold all the MA credits (65) into the MDiv (96 credits). That is what I am currently occupied doing as Fall gently cascades across the oaks and maples casting dappled shade over West Michigan countryside and cityscape.
A great many changes were also underway. After graduation I found myself amidst the busyness of a mission trip with my dearly beloved high school students and my wonderful mother, Ann. Then it was Vacation Bible School week at Grace Episcopal. Then I was on a plane to France with nothing but my bike, a few bucks, and lots of existential questions. 19 million grapevines, 58 Spanish pueblos, a few wonderful glasses of wine, and 800 kilometers of riding and contemplation later, I was heading back home. At that point I sensed in my heart that not only one close friend – Sarah Bailey – but also another, Kyle Bos, would soon be departing for seminary studies hundreds of miles away. Two other close housemates, Eric Anderson and James Kessel were leaving our community of disciples for the sake of a new living situation with a sister and for a new marriage, respectively. To convolute matters even further, my friend and co-worker of three years in student ministries, John Roberts, was now following a call to a new position in North Carolina. Neophobia had set in already when I pondered the evolution of my daily life. Seminary was starting soon and I was entirely unprepared. People were coming and going, I was scatterbrained, and I questioned whether life as it had been could continue.
See, the people with whom I share a home are fellow disciples in faith after Jesus Christ. Together in our home we have cultivated habits of worship, prayer, work, study, conversation, and peeled back the layers of guise that separate and stratify persons in this critical group of humans someone entitled planet earth.
When factors such as close relationships shifting press in around us, we are either brought to despair or to a deeper look at our truest anchor. This is, of course, a hyperbolic statement, but there is latent potential for much good or much harm. By now you probably sense that I am on the verge of the homiletical thrust. I am. Bees know exactly what their mission is in life. Likely this consists of the procurement of honey, protection of the queen bee, and the implementation of strategic construction project complete with managerial structure and materials oversight. Similarly, as Christians gathering to follow in the steps of Jesus, we know our mission. We know exactly what it is that is required of us. Saint Paul outlines the goal clearly in Galatians 5:22-23 : “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.” There are no laws against these things, and they coincide perfectly with the “grain of the universe” as John Howard Yoder phrased it.
In prayer and devotion, disciples after Jesus anticipate the kingdom that is to come. Unfortunately we are not as precise in our mission as bees are toward the preparation of delicious honey or the installment of new honeycomb structures. We falter, we question, we fail. And yet, the grace of God invites us to rise again.
In Benedictine monastic tradition, the Rule enjoins faithful monks to practice the virtues of work, study, and prayer. Undergirded by relationship, Christians establish rhythms in this same way, rhythms that might include daily 40 mile commutes to office jobs, biweekly stops at grocers or farmers markets, conversations with a depressed sister, plans for a needed vacation. But are these very normal routines undergirded in prayer and purpose? They can. Do work and study glow with the hope of a kingdom at hand? They can. Benedictines and bees have much in common. They both see the grain of nature facing a certain way. Humbly and unabashedly, they align themselves with it. Our hope as Christians is in a God who suffers with us and also hopes with us (see the biblical book of Luke in chapters 22-24).
Amidst a season of great change, I have found such stability and guidance from God in work, study, and prayer. I have been encouraged in faith, and I would venture to at least hope that I have been to encourage others also. These Benedictine-influenced rhythms propel me and the community close to me toward the God who, if only to inspire faithful disciples who often fail to live up to their implicit calling as such, created bees.
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