Friday morning saw me doing something strange in the Deanery garden. I took out a spoonful of homemade marmalade and a small bell to our recently-acquired beehive, following an old custom to welcome bees to their new home.
I put the marmalade on their landing stage, and then tapped the hive gently and rang the bell. Quietly I said the words ‘Little brownies, little brownies, your mistress is here.’
No one owns bees; the best you do is work with them. So it’s a courtesy, say some beekeepers.
It’s called telling the bees.
Telling them of any significant changes in their lives.
Telling them that I am there to co-operate with them.
I watch, delighted, as the bees return over the Abbey walls, legs laden with pollen.
I hear the low buzz of activity within the brood box and the super as the hive settles down. I’m learning about their complex community life: how each bee takes its own role – as guard, nurse, worker, drone, queen. I love the co-operation; the working together as a whole.
How all the individuals make one body, thinking, feeling, existing as one entity. Already I can see how hives have their own corporate personality.
Some are sweet-natured; others grumpy, easily stirred to aggression. How you treat them can make a real difference.
If you’re anxious or fearful, they pick it up. They don’t like sudden movement, loud noises, upset. They like to be told what’s going on, calmly and respectfully.
For a hive to function well, all its members need to know what to do; what their role is, how to contribute.
The whole is greater than its parts; the hive comes first, over the needs of any one individual. Co-operation, working together, is sweet.
Lessons in wisdom can be learned from studying bees.
Many, many people in today’s world have no work. Or are stuck in jobs where there is no satisfaction, or pleasure, or rest.
Many people are dehumanized by what they have to do, by the lack of any real meaning. Not work but drudge: long, repetitive, badly paid, stressful. Too many today are little more than slaves, atomized, cogs in a machine. No sense of human co-operation to fulfil a common goal.
Nothing produced of value. Too many live and work solely to deliver profit for others, who are more greedy than they should be.
As bees work together to produce honey to sweeten life, and wax to enlighten the world, what more, I ask myself, can I do to bring sweetness and light to others, to enhance the common good?
-- The Very Rev Dr Frances Ward is Dean of St Edmundsbury Cathedral