The Bee

I heard it as I was going up the stairs with a basket of clean laundry: a deep, frantic buzzing. It sounded almost like a drill. Too loud to be even the biggest housefly, too deep and grumbly to be a hornet: must be a bee. I set the basket down and went back downstairs again, looking for a plastic cup and a slip of cardboard and swearing to myself. Dishes to do, supper to start, shopping to take care of, bee to deal with--dammit, no wonder I never seem to get any real work done....

This household has a defined policy for members of the phyllum Arthropoda (what most people call "bugs", although it also includes crustaceans). We are not fond of the Diptera prevalent around here, mostly flies and mosquitos, which are slapped or swatted when caught. While we don't kill them, we are also not partial to the Dermaptera (earwigs), for no very good reason except that they're so yucky-looking. Leptidoptera (moths, mostly) we simply live with; likewise Coleoptera (beetles), although we're extremely fond of ladybugs. The Odonata (dragonflies) never come in, but we love them dearly; not only are they fascinating and gorgeous in their own rights, but they munch the dipterids that munch on us. As for the class Arachnida, (spiders) they are honoured guests; we are highly web-friendly. For much of last fall and winter, we cherished a particularly handsome specimen named Bubbles, until (s)he vanished into the pantry, never to be seen again. And let's leave centipedes, mites, and fleas out of this. (Author's note: for the previous paragraph, I hit up the online Encyclopedia Britannica and checked with our local naturalists. I'm really hopelessly ignorant; I just have good sources.)

But what about the Hymenoptera, the hive-dwellers, the swarmers, including the girls with the stingers in their butts? They are a tad more problematic. Wasps and hornets we kill, not happily, but too many of us here are too afraid of them. Ants get in the food, which we don't like, and my elder son detests them, so they too get the boot. Bees, on the other hand, get the trap-and-release treatment. Which is why I went downstairs looking for cup and cardboard....

It was a honeybee, I think--certainly not one of the huge, fat, fuzzy bumblers, but something sleeker and more dangerous-looking. She was throwing herself against the glass of the upstairs hall window, trying to get out. I waited until she'd settled down, buzzing frantically against one spot on the windowpane; then I trapped her by carefully putting the cup mouth over her and against the glass, sliding the bit of cardboard under to hold her in. Her buzz went from deep growl to hysterical scream, like an engine being gunned, as I carried her down the front stairs: this was one REALLY upset bee-person. Fortunately the front door was wide open; I kicked the screen door, took the bee out on the front porch, pointed the cup at the front yard, and let her fly.

It occurred to me, as I got into the dishes, how much like salvation this whole thing is. There we are, trapped, seeing where we should be, where we really belong, but kept from it by something we can't really see and certainly can't get through. We panic as the bee panicked, buzzing against this strange barrier; our efforts are furious and futile, but we can't seem to understand that we cannot break through, not without help. And the strange thing is that so often we need to be even further trapped--caught in a mystifying, maybe terrifying place that we think is leading to death, before we can be set free. Or at least, that's my experience.

The important thing about salvation is that it catches where we're trapped and that it frees us when we cannot free ourselves. And as the bee had done nothing to deserve its own freedom, so do we do nothing to deserve ours. It's all done out of God's sheer generous love.

God's cup-and-cardboard act is, however, nothing like mine: there's nothing so crudely mechanical about how we get rescued. He may, for example, work through the love of those around us or the kindness of strangers. God finds ways of working in our lives that are highly creative and sometimes a little weird. Or the saving process may be so subtle that we have no idea what's going on, any more than that bee knew that I was going to do with her. Her rescue was (from her perspective) terrifying, even traumatic, certainly dramatic (to her, at least) and sometimes that's what we experience with God; but often our rescue comes more gently, even imperceptibly. What it always involves, though, is turning away from the false way out--from pounding against a wall we can't see but that blocks us from real life--to true liberation.

That bee had no idea what I was doing; the same often goes for us. We often have no idea that we're in the process of being saved until we're out the other side of it. And we may never fully realize or understand what it is that set us free. God is too big and we are too small and limited to be able to understand all that God's about.

Have I been saved? You betcha: saved from certain death by beating myself up against what looked like the light and what was, in fact, a hard, defeating surface. And I knew at the time that salvation was at work, but it was not an easy or pretty process, and I'm not sure it's finished yet. Salvation isn't always a once-and-always affair. At least not in my experience.

Drying the plates, I thought: That bee took off from the cup as though she had been fired from a gun, shooting off into a perfect May afternoon, rejoicing (in her apian way) in being free once again in a world full of flowering. I think I remember a bit of how that felt. I hope she found her way home.

Copyright © 2001 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 26 May 2001
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