Of Bees, Hummingbirds, and Us

Every day, the little hummingbird with the nest in the tree outside my house is sitting on her eggs when I pass by.

This week, a friend showed a few of us the bee hives he’s been keeping for three years without the bees making enough honey to harvest.

In both cases, I am amazed at the patience in these simple acts. My friend checks his hives once a week, each time suiting up, smoking the bees to confuse and settle them, and gently shifting and checking each rack. That’s 156 weeks so far, give or take.

Wildflowers, on the other hand, spring up with the first good dose of sunshine and warmth in a rainy year. Patience doesn’t seem to be their thing, yet this year’s crop must have lain dormant as seeds for years during the drought—the same drought that caused low honey production.

Inside each pound of honey is the nectar of two million wildflowers. I don’t know whether you can call the life of a worker bee a patient one as she gathers the nectar or whether she’s only doing what she knows how to do.

Maybe we know how to move through the world without rushing, to wait and give that which is coming into being our full attention, to allow ripeness to come in its own time. Maybe all we have to do is tune into that knowing.

There are times to do nothing but sit on the eggs and times to spring up and push through the earth, seasons to gather nectar and seasons to hang out in the hive eating honey. Nothing we do can hurry those along. Nothing can change periods best suited to waiting into moments that require action or vice versa.

The fullness of life comes in its own time. To participate in its coming and enjoy its fruits we need most of all to pay attention.

This Gift We Are Living

Thanksgiving is probably the wisest of our national holidays. President’s Day can’t quite transform our outlook or way of approaching the world the way gratitude does.

Perhaps gratitude sparks such a profound shift because it puts us in touch with the truth that every moment and every molecule of this life are freely and mysteriously given to us. Here are a few of the innumerable things for which my heart breathes a deep thank you:

The repetitive and enduring nature of patience—all the times we choose not to take a mistake too seriously, every time we remember that people are more important than outcomes, each hopeful beginning again, the infinite grounding of the world in Mercy.

The expanse of Reality—the Earth, the sun, the Milky Way traveling through space at 1.3 million miles per hour, the billions of other galaxies shaped like ours, the personal imperfections we will never overcome, our incalculable and inexplicable generosity toward other beings, the presence of God in all of it.

The daily amazements—the cat’s ability to jump onto the countertop, the whir of the hummingbird’s wings, the welcome from the giant sycamore tree near the University Union, the refreshing burst of a good laugh, the reliable supply of food in the grocery store coupled with the economic means to purchase it.

This graced and charged existence we share—this breathing, this intertwining of lives, this shaping one another, this distinct being here amid the myriad possibilities that could have arisen.

The people who bless my life—family, friends, coworkers, writers who died years ago and left their thoughts behind, restaurant servers, my mechanic, you reading this.

Happy Thanksgiving. May we all live in the wonder of this gift of existing.

Being Love

I often have a hard time remembering what I’m on this Earth for, which is to love and be loved. I am not referring only to interpersonal relationships, though they are likely our truest guide, but rather to a way of being in the world, a participation in the life of God.

One conception of creation is that it’s a result of God pouring out God’s love. My understanding of a recent talk by Jim Finley is that we are called to live in this love and let it flow through us until we’re just one big love exchanger with God, both the unimaginably bigger than we can understand God and the God within all that we see and meet. That’s what creation is, including us, and that’s what keeps it unfolding—this reciprocal flow of love.

I’m not very good at this. There’s something about being human that makes it often difficult, but it’s desperately important. As a friend pointed out in an online discussion this week, if we’re not practicing love, we’re practicing something else—fear, retribution, take your pick among several nasty alternatives.

So I started reminding myself by saying, for example, “I have to do the dishes with love.” Whatever it was that was on my list, I added, “with love,” the way you add “in bed” to the advice from a fortune cookie.

Then an interesting thing happened: I realized that “with love” and “have to” don’t go together. Love is always free, never forced. I changed it to, “I would like to walk down the stairs with love.” The current iteration is “Grant me the grace to write this blog in love.”

I am sorry to report that I’m not walking around in an aura of glowing golden light yet, though I’m sure that’s right around the corner. Maybe I was more patient with a friend or my cat or the garbage disposal. Practice, practice.

Standing in the Muck

It was one of those weeks that makes me grateful other people can’t see into my head, which was more than usually full of all that muck we rather wish we didn’t carry around inside of us— fear, a sense of inferiority, frustration, meanness.

A religious sister once couldn’t overcome her inability to be patient with the other sisters in her community. She asked St. Thérèse of Lisieux what to do. St. Thérèse didn’t say a word about how to treat the other sisters but instead counseled her to be patient with her own impatience.

I decided to take St. Thérèse’s advice. I wrote myself a list of questions: Can I be loving with my cruelty? Can I be understanding with my frustration? Can I tell the voice that sees only lack that it is enough?

The answer was yes—for a few seconds at a time every now and then. Did it make a difference? It depends on what you consider a difference, I suppose. Was it all sunshine and butterflies after my first few attempts? No indeed, not even after many attempts. Was I more loving to those around me? No way to tell without popping over to the alternate universe where I chose to be overwhelmed with feelings of self-pity or take a sick week.

Though a sick week sounds pretty good—and sometimes we need those—other times we just need to stand in our own skin and be OK with ourselves as we are. There is that saying that the only way out is through. I’ve always pictured that as a relatively unpleasant journey, but maybe the only way through is love and acceptance.

Hold, Carry, and Don’t Kill Anybody

silk floss tree
A silk floss tree in bloom. Photo by Daniel Orth; used under Creative Commons attribution license.

Some days it’s possible to maintain an awareness that we’re really here to connect with that divine spark inside our fellow human beings and all of creation, to notice the miracle in the profoundly pink blossoms of a silk floss tree, to be kind, be kind, be kind. Some days, I might even see the value in loving my enemies. And other days, it’s all I can do to keep from throttling my friends.

I used to think the friend-almost-throttling days were a failure, but maybe not; maybe, for that day, they’re a tremendous success. After all, no strangulation occurred. Maybe grinding my teeth and doing nothing on the less enlightened days is as much a step toward loving my enemies as being kind is on the easier days.

Ronald Rolheiser said the first thing that ever made sense to me about Jesus on the cross, which is that he demonstrated how to hold, carry and transform whatever hurtful energy is directed at us. We are a mirroring species. If someone glances up to see a passing bird, we glance up, too. If someone likes us, we tend to like them, and if they dislike us, we usually return the favor.

So to really change anything rather than just reflect back what we get, we have to hold, carry and transform that energy. I don’t know why, but I think our capacity to do that is not the same every day. My conception of my best used to be that every day I would be the most efficient, disciplined and intelligent achiever of things that I could imagine. Now, I’m pretty sure that I’ll never reach what I can imagine, and I’m convinced that some days will be impressive and some will be of the not throttling variety.

But not throttling still contains an iota of holding, carrying and transforming, and it’s a lot better than the alternative.

Why Wait?

My life would be a lot easier if impatience were a virtue. Or if I could learn patience faster.

Recently, I’ve been telling myself to buckle down and do more of approximately everything. Myself and I have had this conversation often with no discernible results. So for Advent I decided to stop trying to figure things out and wait and listen instead. This may be what some people refer to as praying.

Our culture doesn’t particularly value waiting, and after two weeks of practicing it, I understand why. The first couple of days you can feel all la-dee-da and enlightened about it, but beginning day three it’s just not fun. The subtitle on the Advent reader they handed out at church says, “Waiting in joyful hope.” I’m not sure where the joyful hope people are, but I’m hanging out in the annoyed get-it-over-with-already camp.

Today I decided that two weeks is quite enough time for God/the universe/whatever to have straightened out my life and revealed at least the next few steps in a clear, concise road map. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, God/the universe/whatever doesn’t appear to be on my timeline, despite my having told her/him/it very sternly in the car on the way home that I’d had about enough of waiting.

But here’s the thing, the point of these four weeks is for people to make a straight path for God, not the other way around. We’re getting ready to celebrate a birth, and though I don’t have any kids, I’ve attended enough baby showers to know that requires a lot of preparation.

Once it happens, your life, as I understand it, does not get easier. Suddenly your time is no longer you own, and this tiny being has the power to disrupt your sleeping and eating and showering in ways previously unimagined. It also has the power to open up a richness and a depth of love that little else can provide.

So that’s what we’re preparing to celebrate, that opening of love in our lives. I suppose it might be worth waiting for.