The Birds and the Bees and the Flowers and the Trees

[Warning:  no birds or trees appear in this essay. This is poetic license. The poet in question is songwriter Herbert Newman.]

A friend gave us a beautiful bouquet of flowers on Christmas day; white and purple daisies and lilies, in a purple vase.  Because the weather has been so pleasant, we put it on our patio table.

Today I saw a bee hovering over the flowers, now a week old but still beautiful and fresh-looking. The bee then landed on one of the lilies and climbed down into its center.  She* then repeated the action with several other flowers, and finally flew away.

A bee visiting a flower is a beautiful thing to see.

But this seemed odd to me.  The flowers are technically dead, having been cut from their plants many days ago.  But they looked alive to the bee (and me) so she stopped by to fill up with nectar and pollen.  It must have been satisfactory, because she repeated it with several flowers.

There must be a lesson in all this.  The flowers, cut dead in their prime of beauty and sweetness, continued to sustain the bee…for a while.  As Shakespeare wrote, “where the bee sucks, there suck I.”  I, too, can be sustained by the beauty of a vase of dead flowers.

But another thought arises.  As far as we understand, flowers have beautiful colors and make sweet nectar in order to attract and feed bees. The flower does so not because it loves the bee, but because the bee helps propagate the flowering plant by carrying away its pollen. The bee spreads the pollen not because it loves flowers, but because the pollen sticks to the her legs.  The bee seeks sweetness; the flower seeks the bee.

The flower has a purpose in creating nectar, just as the bee has a purpose in spreading pollen, though neither of them know of their purpose. And what about me?  Do I have a purpose? Would it not be odd if every living thing – except me – has a purpose for what it does?

Unlike the bee and the flower, I can and do wonder about my purpose.  And once that wondering starts, it leads inevitably to wondering about God.

Do I, like the bee and the flower, exist only to seek sweetness and propagate my genes?

If I exist for any reason beyond that, then God must be part of the answer. Otherwise, why do I wonder?

And yet many people, perhaps most, never seem to ask the question. They seem quite unconcerned by the amazing fact that they exist.

I don’t get it. Like so many other things. But, confusing and troubling as it can be, I am glad that I wonder.


*As you may remember from school, all worker bees are female. It would be unsound to draw too many conclusions from this fact.

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