It's only a bee; it won't hurt you! With those reassuring words my delightful young niece invited me to stroke a bumble bee. Little did she realize that the furry, friendly-looking creature had a sting in its tail -at least some of them do. I still don't know how to distinguish them from the harmless ones. So I hastily declined her friendly invitation and persuaded her that it was not such a good idea to stroke bees, however harmless and cuddly they may seem to be.
Much later I learnt a similar lesson the painful way. That was when I was picking Victoria plums -which I knew would be delicious. Unfortunately I wasn't the only one to fancy them. Eagerly I picked a ripe, succulent plum. Unfortunately a wasp had got there before me and was tucking into 'my' plum. As I grasped the plum and the wasp I felt a sharp, burning pain. I'd been stung! Not surprisingly, I let out a loud scream.
After making a hasty, undignified retreat I dressed my wound. Then, undaunted, I returned to picking plums for my community. I wasn't going to be intimidated by a wasp, which was much smaller than me. But now I was much more cautious and wore a pair of protective rubber gloves. Before grasping each plum I inspected it carefully to ensure that a wasp had not got there before me. If I saw one I heeded the defensive warning of its black and yellow stripes: "If you touch me I will sting you! Keep your distance." That I certainly did.
As a result I was able to harvest the ripe plums the wasps didn't want, without my being stung -even though they buzzed round my head and occasionally walked over my face. Yes, there were many more than one of them. But by keeping a respectful distance, and allowing each other to enjoy the plums, both the wasps and I were satisfied, without our needing to harm each other.
This led me to reflect on the wonder of God's creation. Each creature has its own beauty. My little niece was so right to delight in the beauty of the furry bumble bee -but so wrong in thinking it would welcome being stroked. And the wasp also has its own special beauty. Like the bee, it has been endowed with a powerful sting with which to defend itself. I can't blame the wasp for protecting itself by stinging me.
I think it's safe to say most beasts don't waste their energy or expend their weaponry unnecessarily. If they're aggressive it's either to feed or protect themselves and their young. Usually they give a warning hiss, growl or rattle. Some are more fascinating. They may posture and bang their chests, display bright colours or puff themselves up to increase their size. They all expect us to get the message and back off!
I marvel at the way each beast has a special role and place in the balance of nature. As one kind preys on another that prevents one species becoming too dominant. Only man seems to disregard this delicate balance of nature. We over-fish the seas. We destroy the habitat of the insects we need to pollinate the plants that feed us. We are so short sighted!
But at last we are beginning to wake up! We are learning to respect our environment. Certainly that starts with self-interest. But then, hopefully we move beyond thinking only of preserving what is useful to us. We expand our horizons to marvel at the wonderful world which we inhabit with so many other creatures. And that word, "creature" reminds me that this is not only our world, but God's. He has given us the privilege and responsibility of caring for it and developing it.
As I wonder at the world in which I live I realize that each creature gives glory to God, simply by being its magnificent self. That goes for the smallest as much as the largest. And that includes the wasp that stung me! But we people are special in being the only ones on earth able to appreciate the wonder of God's creation. We can put into words and sing the praise which each creature gives to its maker.
So I meet God by marvelling at the whole of creation and at each creature. I meet Him by respecting the environment in which He has placed me and them. This should enable all of us, His creatures, to flourish. Out of respect we give each other the space each of us need. That, among other things, means I don't stroke bees or grasp wasps!
In a fortnight Fr. Peter will reflect on Meeting God 'By Having the Will But Not The Way.'