The following post is shared with permission by the author, Rev. Christine Maddux. She recently shared it on September 16 in her email column, A Cup of Living Water.*

Bees first buzzed to the fore of my consciousness when I listened to The Secret Lives of Bees while driving to a deacons’ retreat. It is a fine novel by Sue Monk Kidd, about a broken young girl’s emotional redemption while in the care of warm-hearted beekeepers. The storyline is infused with interesting information about the society and habits of bees, which was still buzzing through my mind when I read about the apiary tours offered by our nearby Killer Bees Honey farm. I yearn to take a tour, but meanwhile, bees have continued to buzz across my radar screen.

Next, I was drawn to an essay by syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker, lamenting the declining bee population in our country. She wrote, “Without bees, our ecosystems would collapse, and thus our food supply,” reminding us that the ways of bees are not only redemptive to fictional girls, but are also essential to God’s natural order.

And the most recent “flight of the bumblebee” came to me courtesy of author Miriam Rockness, who has spent the past 30 years researching and reviving the works of Lilias Trotter, a gifted English artist and dedicated Christian missionary who served in Algeria at the turn of the 20th century. Rockness opens her book Images of Faith: Reflections Inspired by Lilias Trotter with the spiritual insight Trotter gained while observing the “desultory bee,” recorded in her diary.

An excerpt from her July 9, 1907, entry reads, “A bee comforted me this morning concerning the desultoriness that troubles me in our work.” Not acquainted with the word “desultory,” I learned that it means “marked by lack of definite plan or purpose; jumping from one thing to another.”

I would associate that behavior with our many modern distractions, but the word originated in 1581. And it captured the troubled feeling Trotter had as she went about the seemingly disjointed, daily bits and pieces of her difficult missionary work in an Arab land. However, watching a desultory bee that July morning changed her perspective.

Her diary entry continues, “The bee was hovering among some blackberry sprays, just touching the flowers here and there in a very tentative way, yet all unconsciously, life-life-life was left behind at every touch, as the miracle-working pollen grains were transferred to the place that they could set the unseen spring working. We have only to see to it that we are surcharged, like the bees, with potential life. It is God and his eternity that will do the work. Yet He needs his wandering, desultory bees.”

Like Trotter, we may feel like our day-to-day life is sometimes just a jumble, not amounting to anything important in the kingdom of God. But we can be encouraged by her insight on the bees flitting from flower to flower, spreading pollen grains of “life-life-life.” Likewise, our simple daily activities are more important than they may seem, as we touch the lives of those around us, even briefly, with the potent life of Christ that we carry within us as his followers (John 14:20). Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). How does He disseminate that life today? Often through simple “bees” like us.

Look at the flowers blooming on the plateau – visions of abundant life, blooming late into the season in a riot of color and fragrance, revealing the extravagant beauty that only God can produce. Yet, in his grand and glorious scheme for both transitory earthly gardens and his glorious, eternal kingdom, “He needs his wandering, desultory bees” to pollinate the world with his love (John 15:12, 17). We can be those bees, “surcharged with potential life”, and touching many that they may bloom with abundant life in Jesus.


*The Rev. Christine Maddux is a deacon at Christ Anglican Church in Cashiers, North Carolina. She welcomes your questions and comments at: [email protected].

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