For three years now at Summer’s end, I have been invited to participate in seasonal work that is very unique and unlike anything I had ever done before. I’ve had the opportunity to learn a tiny bit about the art and stewardship of beekeeping alongside some very good friends who are commercial beekeepers on the Colorado prairie.
While working in an apiary or bee yard there are many opportunities for thoughts, prayers, and reflection. The beekeeper’s job can be singular or with a crew. Even with a crew, the work is done by hand and the beekeeper keeps a steady pace of his own capabilities to complete the day’s work.
I have found the repetitive work of moving from hive to hive systematically to have a great reverence about it. Peeking into a hive and checking on an intriguing and divinely scripted work that has been going on with or without human help since the beginning is calming to the soul. Beekeeping is said to be one of the oldest professions. The Jaredites, as far back as the Tower of Babel, kept bees as we read in the book of Mormon: “And they did also carry with them deseret, which, by interpretation, is a honey bee; and thus they did carry with them swarms of bees.” (Ether 2:3)
It’s hard to explain the awe-inspiring job of being surrounded by the hum of thousands of bees busily going about their work. Each bee has important roles to play to keep the hive functioning perfectly. With each season of their life, the bees’ work and tasks change and so it has been forever.
I cannot say beekeeping is completely enjoyable. Beekeeping is strenuous. It requires skills, muscle, sweat, keen eyes, and a close watch on weather and blooms to keep the nectar flowing. It’s often dirty and sticky. Tools and a suit are needed to help prevent the inevitable bee stings and to work as smoothly and as gentle as possible.
This week as I worked about the bee yard, I was back into that familiar place where my mind syncs with the surroundings. I was picking up old empty hives and maneuvering through the tall grass. I was finding my cadence again and lost myself in the work. My thoughts wandered. I was yanked from the serenity around me when my phone dinged loudly in my pocket. I read the message. It was from my little sister. It was a verse of scripture from this week’s Come, Follow Me lesson. I thought of a new correlation between beekeeping and the Gospel.
As I mentioned prior, beekeeping is an ancient business with great symbolism in Christianity, as well as in many other religions. There are numerous texts referencing the hive, honey and bees in the Bible and other ancient scripture. The bee is considered an emblem of Christ: his mildness and mercy on one side (the honey) and his justice on the other (the sting). Many find the pain of a sting lessened when honey is applied (the Atonement).
The symbolism of the hive in its entirety is what stands out to me reading the invitation from Paul this week to become a true saint and disciple of Jesus Christ. With a little explanation, I can offer a little portion of the important and patient work of a bee.
To make just one tablespoon of honey, a bee has to visit 4,200 flowers, with the average bee visiting about 400 flowers per day. A pound of honey requires bees visiting three million flowers, the equivalent to three trips around the world. Making honey is not the bees’ only hive task. It takes many jobs to keep a hive in proper order.
I find it especially interesting that during the unforgiving heat of the summer, the worker bees will cling to the outside of the hive and beat their wings as fast as they can to cool the honey. Some die in this last saving act, but their sacrifice is not in vain.
The hive and worker bees therein have been marveled over by philosophers throughout the ages. The working bees were once thought to represent a perfect society – loyal to their queen and laboring together incessantly for the good of the community. And a hive without a Queen is lifeless and has no purpose.
The work a bee does outside the hive by pollinating the flowers is of a divine design. The pollination given by the bee is the food for all life in a cycle. A bee is seen as a symbol of life and wisdom. The honey of the hive is recognized around the world as a remedy for every illness.
The bee is seen in ancient depictions of royalty. Because of their association with selfless hard work bees have been adopted as a symbol by various groups the world over, including Latter-Day Saints.
When we think about what it means to be a True Saint or Disciple of Christ, we too have a duty tasked upon us like the busy bee. We accept that invitation when we are baptized to take upon us the name of Christ. We truly become His disciples as we love and serve our fellow man as a bee does to her hive.
Paul laid out a specific list of what is required to be a true disciple of Christ. Jesus Christ gave himself as an atoning sacrifice on our behalf. In return for this, he asks us to become a living sacrifice:
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living, sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service”Romans 12:1
Our Salvation has already been won. It was already paid for by Jesus Christ. His sacrifice grants us Salvation. What Paul is teaching is how to be a true disciple and a saint. True discipleship requires our heart, our mind, and our strength and service.
Discipleship requires action and work:
I’m reminded to follow the dear words of President Gordon B. Hinckley when he said, “Get on your knees and pray, then get on your feet and work.”
Christ will know us by our labors and therefore recognize us as His.
Paul continues to teach the characteristics of disciples in Romans 12:
- Remain true and faithful in order to reap the full blessings of the covenant.
- Follow the counsel of leaders, keep the commandments, avoiding contention, abhor evil, embrace righteousness, fellowship, and become one body in Christ.
- Use our own gifts and talents to serve others cheerfully.
- Serve with sincerity, love, patience, and hospitality.
- Be happy with those who are happy and cry tears with those who are crying. Feed those who are hungry, and give the thirsty drink.
Finally, the scripture my little sister sent to me in the bee yard that broke my concentration: “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)
The greatest lessons I’ve learned were those times when I served side by side with other Saints and strived to do exactly what Paul asked of us in the name of Jesus Christ. Charity has never failed me. Not once.
True discipleship requires total and complete sacrifice like the bee for her hive. While we may never be asked to die as a disciple of Christ as the bee does for her hive, we are called upon to live for it and give all we can.
Because Christ loved us so much, can we give him a living sacrifice?
I pray that we as Saints can strive to become a greater Disciple of Jesus Christ and give him all that we are capable of as we serve each of God’s children.
“Discipleship” – President James E. Faust, October 2006.
“Reflections on a Consecrated Life” – Elder D. Todd Christofferson, October 2010.
“How to Live Well amid Increasing Evil” – Elder Richard G. Scott, April 2004.
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