The Disappearance of Bees
The Spirituality of Beekeeping
Honeybees have thrived for 50 million years, each colony 40 to 50,000 individuals coordinated in amazing harmony. So why, seven years ago, did colonies start dying en masse? Marla Spivak reveals four reasons which are interacting with tragic consequences. This is not simply a problem because bees pollinate a third of the world’s crops. Could this incredible species be holding up a mirror for us? Marla Spivak researches bees’ behavior and biology in an effort to preserve this threatened, but ecologically essential, insect
-- from page on her TED talk
Website: University of Minnesota: http://beelab.umn.edu/
The Spirituality of Beekeeping
Marla Spivak's TEDtalk is a prophetic invitation to live with respect and care for bees. One reason we might do this is to preserve the health of our planet, including the health of human beings. Her talk is a protest against the way we live our lives now, and an affirmation of a better way of living. In this way she illustrates what process theologians call constructive postmodernism.
Constructive postmodernism is the name given to process philosophy in mainland China. It seeks to move beyond the anthropocentrism of modern ways of thinking into more ecological and relational ways of thinking. Constructive postmodernism can also be called ecological postmodernism.
If we are ecological postmodernists, our standard for evaluating the world is not ever-increasing economic growth but rather the well-being of life, human and non-human included. Indeed, our very notion of self is expanded and we feel a sense of identification with what, from more atomized perspectives, might be considered alien and other. We know that we are composed, not only of our relations with other people and with heaven, but also with other forms of life. We are eco-selves or relational selves.
There is a deep and inward spirituality in all of this. Somehow we feel connected to the whole of life, not human life alone. We do not love other creatures more than human beings, but we do not love them less, either. We know that we are kin to the other creatures and they to us. Thus we try to live with respect for what process theologians call the intrinsic value of all life, seeing all of life as pulsating with a kind of creative energy that is expressed in countless ways, including 20,000 species of bees.
All of this is to say that a spirituality of beekeeping is oriented around at least three of the sixteen forms of spirituality adumbrated on the left: prophetic spirituality and a sense of connectedness and an awakening to creative energy.
But for most of us who keep bees, there is more to the spirituality of beekeeping than these three. Let me try to name some of the others.
Respect and care for bees invites us into worlds of wonder and awe that are amazing in their own right. We can look at these worlds from the outside and we can also explore what it might be like to think like a bee. There is a kind of empathy in this activity, maybe even a form of kindness.
As we try to think like a bee there is a kind of shamanic journeying: that is, a journey into realms of imagination that make contact with the subjective side of life. There is a playfulness in this imagining, because we know there can be no certainty, but still we play. We are enriched by imagining the other worlds of our small, flying kin.
There is also the discovery of new ideas. Bees invite fresh ways of thinking about health care and social organization in its own right. We realize that we need to act in ways that our own individual actions contribute to a greater harmony, a common good. Marla Spivak puts it this way:
So the beauty of helping bees this way, for me, is that every one of us needs to behave a little bit more like a bee society, an insect society, where each of our individual actions can contribute to a grand solution, an emergent property, that's much greater than the mere sum of our individual actions.
As we discover these new ideas, we can be creatively transformed, imaginatively and practically, into widened and richer forms of local community. We begin to think of our own communities as including plants and animals, not humans alone. Call it eco-community.
As this happens we discover patterns of interaction that are multi-polar, delightfully diverse, filled with feedback loops, and that may well include archetypes of one sort or another. Not that we ourselves are destined to be workers or queens or drones, but rather that there are occasions in our lives, moments in our personhood, when we are called to work, to carry, to birth: that is, to find that pattern relevant to the circumstances at hand which yield maximum well-being, not only for ourselves, but also for others.
Along the way we may come to be skeptical of conventional ways of thinking that see the whole world in human terms, and that, if theistic, imagine God as primarily and perhaps exclusively in human-like terms. We come to imagine the Soul of the universe as being about the whole of life, not human life alone, which she finds very good.
We are guided by a mysterious Love in whose image bees are made. The image of God is not our capacity to master the world technologically, although bees and humans alike have our technological powers. Rather the image of God is our capacity to feel the world around us and respond in ways appropriate to our calling. Bees are called to live and flourish, humans are called to love and flourish, God is called to help the flourishing of life and love.
Who calls God? We do; the bees do. Always there are the callings of creatures on earth to God. We call for guidance, for comfort, for support, for novelty. We call for angels.
Some people imagine angels as winged creatures who can be messengers of God, contributing to life's well-being. Perhaps the bees are among the angels we seek, with messages for all of us, sent by the very God who has beckoned the self-creativity of the universe into such gorgeous, incredible diversity, bee by bee.
-- Jay McDaniel