A Dream of Honey: An Excerpt from Playdates with God

Below is a modified excerpt from my book, Playdates with God: Having a Childlike Faith in a Grown-up World, copyright 2014. Used with permission from Leafwood Publishers, an imprint of Abilene Christian University Press. All rights reserved.

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In mid-fall, as the goldenrod bend their heads low in the meadow behind my house—I visit the apiary.

It all started when I spoke at a ladies tea at a little country church in the valley where I live. The hostess served honey from her husband’s hives, and I was blown away. “It tastes like sweet clover,” I told her, as I sipped tea with my pinky raised. She smiled and nodded her head. This was entirely different from that syrupy stuff I buy in the bear-shaped bottle at the grocery.

Every day after that, I think about the bees. In the night, I dream of honey. When I awaken, I carry a memory of amber—a dewy sweetness on my tongue. I cannot shake the taste of it. So, I Google up local beekeepers and I talk to the state bee inspector on the phone and my father-in-law calls a friend of his who keeps bees.

“In the Bible, honey represents purity,” the Department of Agriculture’s state bee inspector tells me. “I think there must be bees in heaven,” he says.  I think about that little taste of honey from the tea and it seems to me that maybe a little piece of heaven is already here.

I read all the scriptures in my Bible about honey and I look up the original Hebrew in my concordance. The word used for honey in many of the scriptures refers to the distilled version of a watery sweetness that exists naturally. It is the refined essence of the substance—the richest part.

So. After weeks of waiting, when the goldenrod bend their heads low in the meadow behind my house, I visit the apiary. “That’s how you know the goldenrod is nectaring,” the beekeeper tells me. “The tops are so heavy they fall over.”

We walk into the apiary under a shower of walnut tree leaves. They float slowly to the ground like tiny canoes, sailing the air. I breathe in deep, thinking of honey. The farm smells like woodsmoke and decaying leaves. The sky is blue marble.

I hear the steady thrum of thousands of beating wings rise into that familiar buzz while we are still within a hundred yards of the colonies. The sound thrills me but I feel my heart begin to slow with the low resonance that emanates from the hives. He aims his smoker at the bees flying about the first hive. I watch him open the tall box-like structures and use his tools to remove one frame at a time. He lifts a frame, points out the shiny honey down in each little dimple.

The bees light haphazardly on my arms and midsection and on the veil I am wearing—they seem as curious about me as I am of them. I close my eyes and let the sound of their greeting fill—that low buzz pressing down around me. I know the smoke has made them docile, triggering them to consume as much honey as they can and slowing them down with the weight of it. They are afraid we have come to steal their golden treasure, and so they hide it the best way they know: inside their bulging abdomens.

He lets me take pictures of his bees, hunts out the queen for me to see. He is a good teacher—patient and kind. After he closes up the hives, he shows me his workshop. He makes beeswax candles and sells them. His wife has won numerous awards for baking with honey and her blue ribbons hang on the wall by the door. He teaches candlemaking classes and gives talks about beekeeping.

He tells me about how the honeybees make honey—this refining into the richest essence. He tells me how, after collecting nectar, the bees return to the hive and pass it on to other worker bees. These worker bees chew the nectar for a while allowing enzymes to break down the complex sugars in the nectar into simple sugars. This makes the nectar easier to digest as well as resistant to bacteria. The nectar is then deposited throughout the honeycombs of the hive. Here, water evaporates from it, making it a thicker syrup. The bees use their wings to fan the nectar and accelerate the thickening process. Then, the honey is sealed with a plug of wax and stored until it is eaten.

By us or them.

But listen to this.

The beekeeper tells me about the dance of the honey bee. When a bee finds a particularly lush feeding ground—a place rich with pollen or nectar—they return to the hive and by way of giving the other bees directions to this Eden…they dance. The Honey Bees dance to communicate where a good food source is. The way they dance communicates direction and distance. The distance is communicated by the shape of the dance. Direction is communicated by the angle a bee will bisect her dance with, with respect to the sun. The dance is like the face of a clock, with the sun representing twelve o’clock.  If the bee dances from six to twelve o’clock, this means to fly straight towards the sun; eight to one o’clock would mean fly just to the right of the sun; twelve to six o’clock, fly directly away from the sun.

And the honeybee is a brilliant mathematician. See, these little dances sometimes can take a long time.  So the angle of the sun will sometimes have changed during the dancing. The bee will calculate the change in angle based on where the sun is at the time of the dance.

Scientists have been amazed at how accurately the bee dance communicates where the food is. Isn’t this remarkably beautiful? So I start thinking about this dance. How this dance is the first step in the honeymaking—in the refining process. And—in our lives—isn’t the refining the conforming? This hard work of life the way He uses to make us more like Jesus? And, isn’t this God’s desire for us too—that we dance through the refining? That our lives represent the richest essence of humanity? That as we—do our work, make our art—we would dance through this refinement?

I think about the dance and how each dance is different for each bee; depending on where that bee is, what that bee desires to communicate. I wonder if conformity, in this sense, is what we look like when we join every unique part of ourselves with Jesus? This place where we are, what we desire to communicate, our work, our art—all joined as closely as we can with Jesus. We are united with him but we still retain our own unique qualities too.

Once, I read a pastor describe this type of conformity as the way his wife will conform her body to his on cold winter nights to help stay warm. This is what it means to conform to Christ, he said. To cleave to Him in thought, deed, and desire.

When I think of conformity in this way, it’s easier to imagine that each of us—while our life will be directed by God’s will as the life of Jesus was—will express this in different ways. The ways we worship, the ways we pray, the ways we bring glory to God…all will reflect the glorious variety and diversity in creation that reflects the very image of God. It is the very best of each one of us joined supernaturally with the perfection of Christ. Because our Lord is infinite, we can all look like him and yet look different from one another.

Conformed.

And yet free to embrace who we are.

Now that is something to dance about.

 

 

Inauguration Day

Yesterday, according to our local weathermen, the sun came out for the first time since December 26. When Jeff got home from work, we went for a walk. I’ve been having some trouble with my back, so I couldn’t make it very far without discomfort.  When I’d had enough, Jeff went on without me and I made my way back home alone.  The sky was a fair companion and the wind shifted daubs of cumulus clouds about, rearranging the geography of heaven as I walked. Patches of azure opened and closed here and there, like pupil-less irises in the cloud sclera of sky.

I passed a row of white pines and absentmindedly plucked some needles from a bough. I lifted them to my nose and breathed in their faint scent. It was diminished by the season—tired, old. I pressed the flimsy greens between my teeth and bit down: earthy, grassy, dry.

I walked on, mouthing the needles, wondering at the day. Further along I came across an evergreen I did not recognize. It looked out of place amidst all those white pines and I was pleased to meet it.

“Hello,” I said, to be polite. “How did you end up here?” I felt a kinship with this lonely traveler on this day of days. She was a testament to my heart, a splash of truth in all the pretense.

I bent and buried my nose in a cluster of her needles. Sweet and citrusy, she offered herself to me. Her needles were long, about four inches, and in clusters—like a pine—sprayed out abundantly from the twiggy branch. The cone was open, about three inches. I plucked a cluster of needles from her upstretched arm. No sooner were they in my grasp when my fingers were sticky with the scent of orange. I bit down on acidic brightness—a fruit basket in two small stalks of green. I chewed on the resiny goodness all the way home.

This morning, in my quiet time, I read part of Luke 4. The reading took me through the temptation of Jesus (1-13), to the beginning of his ministry in Galilee (14-15), to his rejection in his home town of Nazareth (16-30). I’m reading through an old lectionary commentary, and the writer had this to say about these passages:

Today marks the midpoint of the Epiphany season, a season in which we celebrate the revelation, the manifestation (epiphania)—of God. Primarily, we celebrate how Jesus is made known—revealed to us as God’s Messiah. But something else is also revealed in this season. In this text, we, too, are made known. And we, like the congregation in Nazareth, are revealed to be a people who like to draw lines in the sand—a people with a persistent ‘we-they’ mind-set. … We can easily turn all of life into a competition—who is better than whom. …
Sometimes we would like to peg God with a certain nationality, a political party, an income level. Yet in the second half of Luke’s work, we read especially about the impartiality of God. When Peter preached about the inclusion of both Jews and Gentiles through Christ, he proclaimed, ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality’ (Acts 10:34). Literally, this reads: ‘God makes no distinction between faces.’ God does not differentiate between peoples.
No, God is not interested in faces; God is interested in hearts. Not beautiful hearts, not pure hearts, nor perfect hearts, but hearts that know their need of God …”

This morning, the sun is still shining. And I’m trying to remember to stand like my new friend—beautiful in her distinctiveness, full of grace. The freshness of such a friend can make one almost forget the pain from a tired old back, and remind to look upon this tired world with eyes of love.

Playdates with God: The Sweetness of Things

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Today we go back to the normal. Normal has been interrupted by Winter Storm Jonas these past couple days. We’ve been digging out from under 16-17 inches of snow, bit by little bit. But today I return to work, Jeff resumes his teaching schedule, and though school is closed for Jeffrey, he won’t be snowed in the way he was this weekend. Temperatures still sleep below the freezing mark, but yesterday the sparrows sung the sun high and we warmed under her gaze. Still, all this white is going nowhere—save for one shovel full at a time.

There is something so sweet when normal is interrupted. We huddle together and light the fire in the fireplace and hearts are soft to one another. We walk together through snow drifts, slipping on ice patches here and there, giggling and holding on to each other like we haven’t for years. We catch snowflakes on our tongues. And our eyelashes. And shoulders and the tops of our heads. Both of my boys had birthdays this past week and though we celebrated with Teddy before taking him back to school, I kept finding myself near tears as his day came to a close and I did not get to see his face.

“I miss you today,” I texted him. “First time you’ve not been home on your birthday.”

“It’s the way it has to be, mom,” he replied, always the practical one. The new semester has only just begun and he is busy learning his new schedule, getting the lay of the land on the new classes.

“I know,” I replied. “It’s how it’s supposed to be and it is good. I’m glad you are having some fun.”

I watched the birds hop atop the frozen crust of snow under the feeder. A Cardinal pair, a handful of snowbirds, some house finches. The day before, an Eastern Towhee stopped by, his cinnamon breast and side a sharp contrast to the pearly world he haunted. But after all that snow, today the sky gleams brilliant blue and the glistening trees carve their shapes into its void. In all this alabaster I struggle to feel what is greening inside me.

Belden Lane quotes Jonathan Edwards as saying, “The works of God are … a kind of voice or language of God to instruct intelligent beings in things pertaining to Himself.” When I watch the birds I am listening to the voice of God. It’s a kind of synesthesia—every sense engaged in this knowing.

I watch the male Cardinal tap a sunflower seed against the mottled trunk of the Maple tree. His insistent tapping sends an avalanche of snow from the slender branches and the air is filled with flashing shafts of powdered light. My throat catches at the sheer abundance of nature. I remember the question Augustine asked of God,

What do I love when I love you? Not light nor the fragrance of flowers, not the taste of honey, nor the gentle touch of the human body. None of these and yet all of them! I do love a kind of light, a certain fragrance, a food and an embrace when I love my God … I said to all those things which stand about the gate to my senses: ‘Tell me about my God … ..’ And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘He made us.’ My question was in my contemplation of them, and their answer was in their beauty.”

This interruption of the normal has been a gift of space for contemplation. For a short while, life slowed to a stop, warmed under a blanket of snow, baffled in white, breathed beauty in every language.

Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. Click on the button below to add your link. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.

Laura Boggess

Playdates with God: The Dance

 

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I am collecting the small moments, savoring each as it arises. Look, the voice inside says to me, Listen, … Touch. My eyes are opened as if for the first time and all the world is new.

Yesterday, a cold front blew in, bending the trees beneath her hands and strumming the cords of the meadow grasses with the tips of her fingers. The resident squirrel wasn’t deterred from robbing my feeders during the winds, dangling upside down on the tube feeder and swaying back and forth like a flag. Cardinals flitted to and fro in front of my window, braving the tempest with fluffed feathers. The hornet’s nest lost its clutch high in the maple tree and I watched its papery form blow about the back yard. I wondered about the sleeping larvae, I wondered if anyone was home. I could see the honeycombed inside of the thing—broken open and bared to my eyes. I wanted to go out and rescue it from further tumblings, poke it with a stick, peer deep into its inner workings. But I was safe inside and warm, so I just watched its papery edges lift with each frosty gust.

It began to snow, thin gossamer flakes stirred by an unseen hand. Winter has been coquettish this year, teasing us with quick glimpses and then withdrawing. I knew I must say hello. So I bundled up, leashed Bon, and let the wind carry me down the street, twirling with my sister snow. My blood has grown thin from the mild temperatures and my eyes dim with warmth, but when the wind bit my nose and kissed my cheeks, my spirit felt the frolic. Bright-eyed and rosy-cheeked we went, companions to blowing leaves and circling flakes of snow.

I have been a valley of dry bones, but this breath of the Spirit breathed new life into me. Small, I whispered, and let the wind carry the word up into the sky. And the world blew all around me, catching me up in her arms for the dance.

Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. Click on the button below to add your link. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.

Laura Boggess

Theosis

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This morning when I take Bonnie out I see the fog has misted over the hills that edge up against our little valley. I listen to the song of a robin. I watch a titmouse flit away before our stepping. I have a box of stale cheerios in my hands and I thread them one-by-one over the maple’s branchy fingers, as one would bestow a wedding band.

“With this ring, I thee wed,” I whisper to the naked bones of my beloved.

Beldon Lane, in his beautiful book Ravished by Beauty: The Surprising Legacy of Reformed Spirituality, makes a strong case for the inclusion of trees in the Communio Sanctorum, the communion of the faithful.

The article of the creed pertaining to the Communio Sanctorum traditionally speaks of a fellowship (or koinonia) among God’s people—the ones who intercede for one another in prayer and deed. It includes those in heaven (the church triumphant) and those on earth (the church militant), and refers to a ‘communion in holy things.’ It focuses on the community of peoples gathered at table with the risen Lord. Theologians since Vatican II have asked how this communion extends beyond the church into the kingdom as a whole. The cosmic Christ of Colossians 1:15 summons all creation to a deeper unity. With leaves in his hair and seedlings in hand, he gathers great blue whales and whooping cranes, passenger pigeons and maidenhair ferns to join with human beings in a common song of praise to God.”

He says, “If Deuteronomy expresses concern that fruit trees not be harmed in the siege of a city (20:19), if the Psalmist speaks repeatedly of a tree ‘planted in the very house of the Lord’ (Ps. 52:10; 92:14), if we’re told that a tree grows in the heart of the New Jerusalem, its leaves meant for the healing of nations (Rev. 22:2), then why not recognize trees as participating in the company of the saints?”

I watch light arrive and touch the branches of my maple. She is warmed, lit from tip to bole. I think about her language, how she speaks as we do—as Lane says, “through a process of wind passing over cords or membranes like leaves.” I listen for her song and something in my spirit is at home. The trees have long been our friends—oxygen makers, shade-givers, root teachers … ah, these with the limbs always reaching for God. Beauty learns from her simple grace.

I stand beneath her, a child-bride, in braids and a white dress—born into this world dancing. Her nakedness makes me long to crawl into my Father’s lap, bury my face in warm skin.

Standing still in this way, I can almost feel the earth move under my feet; the very cells of my body tuned to the song of the cosmos. This is the gift of the small. I have no word to name my new year. I only know this will be the year of small, a year of noticing the seemingly insignificant. For God is changing me. What has worked before no longer quickens the heart. And so I turn my face toward this beautiful and terrible wind. If I am small enough, it will carry me far. Like the tree, I will not try to be anything other than that which I am.

Let this be the year, the lifetime, the month, the week, the day … let this be the moment of becoming what I already am.