God’s Joy made visible

World Bee Day – May 20th

The United Nations have designated today (20th May) as World Bee day.

The UN says that: “Bees and other pollinators, such as butterflies, bats and hummingbirds, are increasingly under threat from human activities. Pollination is, however, a fundamental process for the survival of our ecosystems. Nearly 90% of the world’s wild flowering plant species depend, entirely, or at least in part, on animal pollination, along with more than 75% of the world’s food crops and 35% of global agricultural land. Not only do pollinators contribute directly to food security, but they are key to conserving biodiversity.”

World Bee Day is a way of raising awareness about the key role Bees play in this and also about the threats they face. For example, recent legislation passed by the British Government about the sale of particular pesticides will increase this threat.
The UN therefore says: The goal is to strengthen measures aimed at protecting bees and other pollinators, which would significantly contribute to solving problems related to the global food supply and eliminate hunger in developing countries. We all depend on pollinators and it is, therefore, crucial to monitor their decline and halt the loss of biodiversity.
You can read more on the UN website: https://www.un.org › observances › bee-day.
This also includes suggestions for action.

Today, however, here are some things about Bees which celebrate these important visitors to our gardens.

Did you know that the Bee, and also Beekepers, have a number of Patron Saints.
My favourite one is St. Ambrose

According to legend, when he was a baby his father saw a swarm of bees land on his mouth. They didn’t sting him but they did bring him a gift of honey. This was taken as a sign from God that Ambrose would grow up to be a great preacher. This came true and as a result he was often described as the “honey-tongued doctor.”

St John Chrysostom,  an important early saint of the Church, said of Bees:

The bee is more honoured than other animals, not because she labours,
but because she labours for others.

Other saints are associated with bees, including St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 – 1153) was an 11th century French abbot who was known for using honey as medicine  as did St Kharlamii of Asia Minor.

St Gognait (aka St Deborah or St Abigail) is regarded as the Irish Patron Saints of Bees and Beekepers. There is a story that when robbers stole livestock from her village, she sent her bees in hot pursuit of the robbers They quickly repented!

In a less serious comment on honey is a little rhyme which may have been by Ogden Nash:

I eat my peas with honey,
I’ve done it all my life.
It makes the peas taste funny,
But it keeps them on the knife.

The spirituality of bees includes working alongside others in the hive as a team but, there is a co-operation of a different kind. It is a lesson in working together in the making of honey.
It is by Kahil Gibran  in his famous book, The Prophet.

And now you ask in your heart,
“How shall we distinguish that which is good in pleasure
from that which is not good?”
Go to your fields and your gardens,
and you shall learn that it is the pleasure of the bee to gather honey of the flower,
But it is also the pleasure of the flower to yield its honey to the bee.
For to the bee a flower is a fountain of life,
And to the flower a bee is a messenger of love,
And to both, bee and flower, the giving and the receiving of pleasure
is a need and an ecstasy…

… be in your pleasures like the flowers and the bees.

God is pleased when we work together for the common good and, as Kahil Gibran points out, we can learn much from the bees and the flowers.

One final story in this selection is  about the determination of the bee.

According to all known laws of aviation, there is no way that a bee should be able to fly. Its wings are too small to get its fat little body off the ground. It’s something to do with its body mass in relation to its wing span. It’s all been tested out, using the science of aerodynamics and a wind tunnel.
The Bumble Bee is, however, blissfully ignorant of this scientific fact and, possessing considerable determination, and refusing to accept a low expectation of its capabilities, not only does fly, but it makes a little honey too!

Perhaps we can bear that in mind when we are faced with difficulties about things we can or can’t do. Even more important when others tell us what we can’t do. Think of the bee and don’t let others put you down.

To end here’s part of a prayer liturgy by Douglas Kaine in his book Every Moment Holy.

God, we thank you too for the small
comedy of the creatures,
for the humour of their constant severity,
for the buzz and the bumbling of bees in flight,
for the sight of bees bending
slender stalks to harvest in the blooms,
their feet shod in bristling boots of gold,
their backs fuzzed with bright yellow dust
that is the colour of joy made visible.

So, watch the bees and reflect on them with delight.
They are another sign to us of God’s joy made visible.

Beeswax Candle
to focus our prayer

[MrG]

on Friendship

Last weekend, I met up with some friends at an art exhibition near Oxford.
It was an interesting gathering. Though we were all connected by friendship, for some it was a meeting after a number of years of absence (in one case it was a physical meeting after almost 30 years). Three were meeting for the first time but they had become connected by the friendship each had with others in the group.
It was a joyous occasion as each met around the common factor of amazing art.

On the way home I thought how lovely it had all been and how real relationships both withstand absences and are also quickly renewed.
It  is through relationships that we grow in love, understanding, a feeling of our worth, and joy.
Friendship is one of the most important relationships which we share with so many but the deep friendships are often with only a few.
What might the qualities of such friendships be.

I love what Kahil Gibran, in his book of meditations, The Prophet, says of this.

And a youth said, Speak to us of Friendship.
    And he answered, saying:
    Your friend is your needs answered.
    He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
    And he is your board and your fireside.
    For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.

    When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the “nay” in your own mind, nor do you withhold the “ay.”
    And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;
    For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.
    When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
    For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
    And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
    For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery us not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.

    And let your best be for your friend.
    If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
    For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
    Seek him always with hours to live.
    For it is his to fill your need but not your emptiness.
    And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
    For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

From The Prophet (Knopf, 1923). This poem is in the public domain

(for ‘he’ substitute ‘she’ as appropriate. He wrote this is a different age!)

There are different kinds of friendship. One I have really valued is known as Soul Friendship  and it is about talking to another about God and about our personal relationship with God.
Soul-friends share a deep intimacy and love for each other’s wisdom and, of course, their relationship is totally God-centred.

Whilst using a soul-friend is a way of helping a person to find peace within themselves, peace and harmony with others and with creation, this is not its main aim – essentially it was about seeking a deeper relationship with God. As St Teresa of Avila once said: Prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.
A Soul Friend is therefore one who can walk with us as we seek to grow that prayerful friendship.

Jesus called us his friends and he, through the Holy Spirit is our true and closest  Soul Friend. (see John 15: 12-17)
Our friendship with God defines all our other friendships and one who understood this more than most is St Aelred of Rievaulx, who wrote about Spiritual Friendship. Drawing on the work of Cicero and shot through with his faith and friendship with God, we can learn much about what it means when Jesus calls us His friends.

Almighty God,
who endowed Aelred the abbot
with the gift of Christian friendship
and the wisdom to lead others in the way of holiness:
grant to your people that same spirit of mutual affection,
so that, in loving one another,
we may know the love of Christ
and rejoice in the eternal possession
      of your supreme goodness;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

[Mr G]

Angel of peace for Ukraine

We continue to pray for Ukraine and world peace.

The painting above is by a Ukrainian Contemporary artist, Olesya Hudyma and is titled ‘Woman with Dove Angel of Peace’. It is available to download digitally to help fund her work in Ukraine. It has been painted as a prayer in this time of warfare in her country.

She began painting in 2007 and she is self taught

Speaking about her artworks, she says that they have an emotionally evocative style of painting which is characterized by an opulent colour palette and the texture of her work.

 “All the paintings are imbued with emotions and special images, outlined by quick brushstrokes. According to the topics, the paintings are systematized in series: «Sleepwalker», «Steps», «Angels of Peace for Ukraine», «Ukrainian Madonna», «Flowers» that are combined in different artistic ways : abstract art, expressionism, symbolism, magic realism and contemporary postmodernism. “

She also says of her work;  “I love that state of clarity which is like a prayer. All the noise, emotions, and thoughts calm down and I melt into the world full of colours and fantastic flowers.”

Her artworks are in private collections in Ukraine, United States, Canada, Armenia, England, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Poland.

In August 2018 Ukrainian Postal Service issued a postage stamp with O. Hudyma’s picture «Bride», as a part of «Love is Life» series. Another picture «Tree of Life» was used for a First Day Cover.

You can see more about her and her work by going to her website:

Olesya Hudyma: Modern oil painting https://www.olesyahudyma.com

A Prayer for Ukraine

We pray for the people of Ukraine.
We pray for peace and the laying down of weapons.
We pray for all those who fear for tomorrow,
that your Spirit of comfort would draw near to them.
We pray for those with power over war or peace,
for wisdom, discernment and compassion to guide their decisions.
Above all, we pray for all your precious children, at risk and in fear,
that you would hold and protect them.
We pray in the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

Amen

Love one another.

A Reflection on “Love one another” (The Gospel of John 13: 34-35) from Malcolm Green

I recently  came across this story which, coming as it does from a reliable source, I believe to be true.

This all took place in a small village in France in 1943.  The village was occupied by the Germans, but the local people felt sorry for these enemy soldiers.  They were young men, far from home, on short rations, and quite probably conscripts, so we could say that like some many others of the time: they were reluctant participants in a gruesome and horrific war. 
In an attempt to try and help these young men, each day the local priest would go from door to door with two large baskets asking for food for them.  The villagers responded with sharing what they could – a few eggs, perhaps, or some bread and vegetables. 
Then one day the local resistance movement blew up a strategic bridge.  The commander of the occupying forces demanded reprisals and ordered that every man in the village between the ages of sixteen and sixty-five be taken to the village square. 
There, in front of family and friends – wives, mothers, girlfriends, sisters and their own children, they were shot.
Besides themselves with grief, anger and torment, the villagers turned on the priest: “If you come again asking for food for these murderers, we shall kill you.” 

On the day of the funerals the little church was overflowing, because every family in the village had lost someone.  The old priest stood up and read from John’s Gospel , “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.” 
Later that day the priest  stood in the village square – totally amazed and with tears in his eyes – as he watched the local people filling the baskets he had placed at his feet, with food to feed the enemy soldiers.

Now when I read that story of an event that took place in 1943, I couldn’t help but think of the atrocities happening in the small town of Bucha, and elsewhere in Ukraine today. 
We read the stories, and we see the pictures, but I don’t think any of us have an idea of what it’s like witnessing the realities of these kind of situations. 
If I’m totally  honest, I can’t even begin to imagine how I would be able to start knowing how to love someone who had caused me such indescribable pain and hurt.
And for me it doesn’t even have to go to such extremes for me to be tested.  People can say things, do things – or not do things – and they can grate.  It’s not easy to love someone who rubs you up the wrong way!

“Love one another as I have loved you”
This most simple-sounding commandment is probably the most difficult to carry out. 
Yes, it’s easy to just nod your head and agree it’s a very good commandment.  It’s fairly easy to recognise the wisdom of it. 
However, it requires a great deal of courage to put it into practice, and let’s not forget, it cost Christ his life.

Jesus died because he continued to remain true to this fundamental precept – this fundamental way of being – the very essence of what God is all about – to love each and every one of us, whoever we are, and no matter what we might or might not have done – regardless of how, or even if, we respond to him.
Jesus was hated and treated unjustly by his enemies and yet he still loved them. 
Not an emotional or sentimental love, but a love that understands them.  A love that is prepared to absorb the fear which made them react against him.  He loved them out of his concern for their well-being, in spite of their actions.
He loved them by recognising the basic humanity of each one which makes them precious in God’s eyes.
And loving one another as Jesus loves us is the calling of the Christian.  By the time the Apostles had begun the work of carrying on Jesus’ mission they had come  to understand that Jesus is for everyone – not just a select few who believed they were the chosen ones.

It’s interesting that we tend to think of the Inclusive Church organisation as a fairly recent initiative.  In fact, the early Church were inclusive from the very beginning!
Like those early Christians, we believe in a church that celebrates and affirms every person, and does not discriminate.
The enthusiasm of the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles speaks of the generosity of those followers who dedicated their lives to spreading this universal message of love and forgiveness.
And if we have any concerns about not being good  because we find it difficult to love everyone equally, no matter our best intentions and how much we try, we can be reassured in that Jesus did not say it would be easy.
Jesus simply set out how important and necessary it is for us to keep at the front of our minds the commandment to love, and to use our very best endeavours to try and achieve that.   We should be praying for those we find it hardest to love, and we should be asking for God’s blessing on them as well as on us.

In loving each other in the same way that Jesus loves us, it is the only way in which the world can come to reflect the kingdom of God – and after all – isn’t that something we often pray for – thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven?

We may think that what we might consider to be our meagre efforts in showing Jesus’ inclusive love will make no difference, that it will pass by unnoticed.
But it is in the struggle to love that we draw closest to Jesus and, together with him, we may affect our world more than we think possible.  Let’s not underestimate God!

Our present society would often have us believe that it is easy to love.  But that is a different “brand” of love from Jesus’.
To love like Jesus is to surrender our own needs and desires to make space for, and to ensure that, the needs and desires of others are met, regardless of whether or not they are considered “worthy” by our own standards. 
Remembering always that we too, despite our own failings, are precious to God, is a gift worth giving.  For, ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that we should have eternal life’. 
As children of the same God, should we not also surrender ourselves in love to the needs of others?

This is the challenge of the Gospel, both simple and profound.  It is as fresh a call today as it was when it came from the lips of Jesus: “Love one another… just as I have loved you.” 

And let us not be concerned or fearful of the reaction we may receive, for remember – he’s always walking alongside us, to the end of the age.

The Revd Malcolm Green is a member of the Ministry Team at St. Mary-at-Latton, Harlow