By all accounts Brother Fadistily was quite well off before he had taken the vows to join the Clarifall Canyon Abbey. He had a relatively pleasant childhood with a supportive family and was set to inherit a steady trade. Externally, Brother Fadistily did not lead a difficult life before the abbey. But there was a sorrow in him that no one, not even himself could explain. Uncertainty, pain and rejection dove straight to his heart and cut loose any lines of hope that were tethered to it one by one. Such sickly clouds of fear and lament of the brokenness in the world rolled over his soul so heavily that his family feared he may wither away at the tender age of 22, and though each tried their own best, he sank beyond their reach and it was only on the advice of his aged great grandmother that he chose to leave the common world and join the abbey. Though many who choose a monastic life are by nature introspective and, to some extent introverted, Brother Fadistily was withdrawn in ways that were unusual even among that community. He spent much of his time sitting under the sorrow drop plum tree in the abbey’s courtyard. This species of tree was so named for its tear shape fruit, bittersweet taste, the soft blue color of their skin, and how the branches would droop as the fruit got heavier. He would sit under this tree mumbling his prayers and skimming his scripture. The comfort he found in them was usually upended by a following passage. As he was apt to ingest most things as sour, the verses of correction and warning in scripture became indictments of his worth and condemnation of his own soul, so much so that even reaching up to God was felt to be a fool’s errand.
Today he rolled a plum in his hands, turning it over again and again, his eyes unfocused, empty of light and full of sadness. But his solemnity was broken by a buzzing sound. A little gold and black bee had landed on his plum. Brother Fadistily looked down and his eyes softly brightened. The bee crawled onto his finger and he raised it to the level of his eyes. The bee flittered its wings and launched away and Brother Fadistily looked on as it flew up and through the pink leaves of the tree and then dived down to the cups of the gold trolliby flowers. Brother Fadistily stood up and followed slowly, finding himself whispering a prayer over each flower the bee would kiss. The bell for the mid-day meal rang and with one final look at this new companion he walked to the dining hall.
Brother Fadistily did not laugh during communal outings, he did not smile during fellowship gatherings, and he sat alone at meals by the ash can near the fireplace. After finishing his soup he picked up the bread but as he set to clean the bowl with it, he stopped, stood up and walked to the middle table where most of the brothers sat and ate. He tapped the shoulder of Brother Orlo and softly asked him for the jar of honey. Brother Orlo obliged and offered a surprised smiled to the young man. When Brother Fadistily returned to his corner he pulled out the honey spoon and drizzled a generous amount on his bread. The golden sweetness danced across his tongue, a bit dribbled down to his small patchy beard and his eyes closed while the edges of his chewing mouth drew slightly upward in delight.
After morning prayers the next day, Brother Fadistily took his same spot under the sorrow drop plumb tree, but his eyes kept their focus today. He scanned the blue plimsly flowers along the riverbank and he looked across the vegetable garden, trying to locate his buzzing companion. Finally, on a yellow berry bush blossom he saw two bees dancing together from flower to flower. He then noticed four more bees floating above his head, flying between the drooping branches and light blue fruit. He stood on his bench to observe the bees more closely. Several more bees joined in, darting and swooping with grace. Again, the mid-day meal bell rang and his fascination was cut short. He dutifully made his way towards the dining hall but there was a noticeable skip to his step. At evening vespers his voice could even be heard chanting and singing by those next to him, which Brother Orlo noted with a smile.
As Brother Fadistily hurried through his morning routine the next day, he hummed to himself and he smiled at the pink plum leaves he found hiding in the folds of his robes. He tied his cincture and laced his sandals and moved through the halls at such a festive pace that other brothers didn’t recognize him at first. When Brother Fadistily got to the outer yard he saw a handful of other Brothers standing around the sorrow drop plum tree, gazing up into the branches. When he approached, he heard a low hum from the tree and as he reached the trunk he could see a large golden mass clustered at the center that pulsed and shimmered. Brother Fadistily climbed onto his usual bench and stood atop his toes and saw a swarm of bees bunched and huddled, hanging from a branch close to the center. Brother Fadistily let out a gasp and a giggle which everyone heard for the first time. Brother Orlo came to Brother Fadistily’s side and looked up with him. “I’ve heard about this! They send out scouts to find a suitable place to build a hive or the nearest best place to rest on their search. We must be blessed indeed to be chosen as a home or a place of rest for so beautiful a community.” Brother Fadistily did not take his eyes off the swarm but looked at each bee with wonder. Brother Orlo beamed as he turned to the gathering monks. “What a gift this is to our little brotherhood! Our Creator has leant us some of His bountiful creation for an unknown time and unseen good purpose! What a gift fresh honey would be to make, eat and share with those in town who need some sweetness in a bitter life. Brother Huizu would benefit of the bees wax for his candles…” Brother Orlo put a soft hand on the shoulder of Brother Fadistily, “And our dear Brother Fadistily shall be our chief beekeeper!” Everyone turned to Brother Fadistily, expecting a silent protest or tears to flow. But to no small surprise to any, Brother Fadistily smiled widely and nodded. The brothers applauded and placed their hands on Brother Fadistily’s feet, ordaining him to this little buzzing flock.
After the mid-day meal Brother Orlo brought a bowl of soup and bread out to the tree and placed it on the bench. He looked up to see Brother Fadistily laying out on a bowed limb, directly beneath the swarm, humming with their song and matching the tone of his note with theirs. Brother Orlo climbed up on a nearby branch, which was not an easy feat for a man of his age and size, and sat with him in the tree. “I seem to remember the Sisters of Song from the convent near Biddlesville keep bees. It’s but half a day’s journey. If the swarm still blesses us with their company tomorrow morning I will write a request to them for any supplies and spare hives and I will send you with our cart and mule to them. You will need to return before the evening bell so there will not be time for delay in the town… but you never were one for walking the streets of any city now that I recall so that should not be a temptation. Would you like to go, Brother?” “Yes please.” Brother Fadistily’s eyes sparkled. “Brother, I delight in your newfound spirit, but I must warn you, the weather may change or a wind may blow or they may move on and find a more suitable home. Do not be disheartened if you return to find them gone.” Brother Fadistily had not considered this. But surely the Good Lord did not mean all this for nothing. He accepted the possibility but did not leave much room for such cautiousness that night.
The next day the bees were as Brother Fadistily left them so he ran to Brother Orlo’s cell for the letter, then to the kitchen for provisions, and then to the stables for the cart and mule. He waved farewell to his brothers with a wide smile and down the road he went. The countryside lanes and the township streets which once brought so much fear to his heart now passed by with barely a thought. He waved at a few of the townspeople, who did not recognize him at all.
The Sisters were cheerfully accommodating and packed Brother Fadistily’s cart with two beautiful hand carved hive boxes, a sturdy set of coverings and enough equipment and reading material to give him a fine start. On his journey back he thought about what Brother Orlo said, that there was a possibility that the bees could be gone by his return. He felt the echo of the sadness and fear he was so accustomed to, and yet tried to accept that this was a possibility and it was prudent to keep his expectations as realistic as possible.
But the dread lifted suddenly, as if blown away by the beating of a thousand wings as his cart rattled into the abbey once more. The brothers cheered and pointed excitedly as Brother Fadistily dismounted. Never had he heard a more beautiful music than the deep buzzing of the swarm still camped in the sorrow drop plum tree The hope he feared to lose blazed into a joy that he had never felt before and he laughed as the Maker must have at the beginning of the world.
Brother Fadistily ran the supplies to the garden shed and carried the hives to a spot in the corner by the brightest flowers. Then he ran to his cell, changed out of his robes and into the protective clothing. He emerged looking both silly and sacred. But when his feet hit the courtyard the music of his heart stopped. Every brother stared motionless at Brother Fadistily with a sorrowful condolence. His skin chilled and his pulse quickened. His feet stopped at the base of the empty tree and his eyes filled as he saw the bee barren branches. The swarm had flown away.
The Lord giveth the Lord taketh away.…
After that day, anyone who caught a brief glimpse of Brother Fadistily in the hall saw what appeared to be his walking corpse. Any attempt to reach out to him failed. He took little food and did not join the community for any reason. His heart no longer felt the sadness of the world being broken, so in that sense, he was no longer afraid. But what took its place was the hollow ache that comes when one believes that the world was never good and that God was petulant and cruel. What broke was not his love for the bees, but his fragile hope that God may be a loving creator.
On the fifth day of summer his door opened and out stepped Brother Fadistily wearing the clothes he entered the abbey in. His robes folded on his bed and his cell swept clean. He acknowledged those that were between him and the gates with an expressionless farewell. But he stopped next to Brother Orlo who stood at the open gate.
“I won’t try and talk you out of leaving Brother. Somehow I knew your purpose didn’t end behind these walls. But will you speak with me?”
“Thank you. I… I really don’t know what to say.”
“There’s nothing to be said.”
“No, I don’t mean… I just wish…”
“It felt good not to be afraid. I’ve been afraid for so long. But fear is for those who believe in goodness. Since I no longer do, my cell is the same as the street alley now.”
Brother Orlo sat down with his back against the wall. He drew little stars in the dirt. Brother Fadistily sat next to him.
“I’m glad you have your faith Brother Orlo. But if God is petulant and cruel, I’d rather live like He does not exist at all. At least then, when I don’t expect anything from Him, I won’t be heartbroken.”
“Hmm…” Brother Orlo kept his eyes on the dirt his finger pushed around as he chuckled softly. “Have I ever told you about the founding of this abbey?”
“I actually was not much older than you when the head of our order told me to travel here and find where God would lead us to build it. I was weary from the journey and the townspeople were not as friendly as they are now. In fact one of them, you would know who if I told you his name, robbed me of my silver and shoes.” Fadistily looked up inquisitively but Brother Orlo smiled and shook his head. “A man shouldn’t be defined by what Christ has forgiven; he should be defined by the grace he has chosen to receive. After that incident I fled to the mountains and there, high up on the top of a beautiful peak was a flat spot with trees and a view that would make any man drop to his knees and thank God for every breath they had been given. There, on that hill was a sorrow drop plum tree! The same kind our order plants at each of our abbey’s. It was as if the Lord Himself told me that we were home! I wrote to the brothers and many came to help me build our new abbey. But as we began to clear the timbers and prepare the land… a native child came out of the forest. We offered him food and drink. Afterwards he ran back into the woods and in an hour a hundred men appeared bearing weapons. They did not need to know our words to clearly say that this was their land and we had no claim to it. Our brothers packed up the tools and began to head down the mountain. I protested and, God forgive me, I wanted to fight them. Who were they to stand in the way of where God had clearly shown me our brothers were meant to be? But each brother refused. They told me the way of Christ was not the way of the sword, as Jesus told Peter. The Lord would not have us take from others what was already God’s for the blessing of His beloved creation, one and all, and that we would need to find another place. The brothers left the mountain and camped in a small canyon by a stream. I stayed in the mountains two days and I yelled at my God. I accused Him of cruelty and falseness and spite. But I had no family to go home to, so I returned to my brothers and found them working in this very canyon. I protested again, citing the closeness of the town of violence I passed through before. But they had committed themselves to the task whether I participated or not. For years after the abbey was built, I only mouthed my prayers and feigned my disciplines but my heart was far from them. But eventually my eyes would slowly refocus, and the faith of my brothers carried me and I found myself praying again. Angrily at first, but praying none the less. I even slowly began to find some small joy in songs and scripture. Our abbey was indeed visited by those townsfolk I so wished to avoid. They were indeed disruptive to our contemplation and they did indeed cause us some hardships. But over time they began to accept us and we them and a bond began to grow. It’s not perfect, and it’s not the cloistered contemplative Eden we intended when we set forth to build an abbey, but it is good work to love these people. And then, 15 years to the day after I first arrived on the mountain, lighting struck, a fire blazed across the forest and the mountains glowed red. From the billowing white and ashen smoke came the surviving natives and their children. They were led by a young man who was the little child we had met before. We took them in and cared for them, these people I had hated so. We cleaned their wounds and gave them shelter and food until the rains came and the fire burnt out. They stayed with us until the smoke and steam ended and then they returned to the mountains. If we fought them for that mountain, many would have died. If we had won the mountain, we would have died. And if we had not been here to welcome them, they would have died. Many lives were saved by God leading me to the mountain but then leading us away. I never would have chosen this canyon – surrounded by rocks, apart from the beautiful trees and so close to the town, but the Lord had good purpose in it that I could not foresee. I would not have given this spot a moment’s thought had He not gotten my attention with something I would have looked to, but then took it away and replaced it with what His true purpose was. God is many things, but I believe God is not a cruel, petulant deity. On the contrary, I think He loves you enough to let you feel that about Him as He works with our limited sight and selfish hearts to do His good work and bless us and the world. I don’t know why you were given the bees, only for them to be taken away. I too am sad, for what I saw in the time of you having care of those bees was the true you. The you that the Lord made you to be before the darkness of the world hurt you and made you so afraid. But maybe it was never about the bees. Maybe God wanted to show you how to move through your fears, to teach you to leave not the honey for the stings.”
Brother Orlo now became excited as he did when he felt he was on to something.
“Let the goodness of the honey capture your tongue so your arms can weather the stings! So long have you ignored the sweet because of the stings of life but when you steal away the sweetness because of the bitter you destroy the gift given to make the bitter endurable! Or… or maybe it was to remind you of who you are MEANT to be! I mean how you alone can reflect that one specific splinter of God’s light that no one else can! And… and if you… when you do you bless those around you so deeply! And you can learn to become him again! And…”
Brother Orlo stopped talking and laughed at himself.
“I’m sorry Brother. I can go on, can’t I? I wish I knew for sure what God’s meaning in all this was for you…”
Brother Orlo pivoted to his knees and put a hand on either side of Fadistily’s shoulders and looked him squarely in the eyes.
“…but whatever it is, I do know this. It’s GOOD.”
With that, Brother Orlo stood up, helped Fadistily to his feet, patted him on the shoulder and waved as Fadistily walked slowly out of the abbey for the …second to last time.
Brother Orlo lay dying many many years later. His hands weathered and gaunt, his face full of the lines that only come upon a face that experiences much joy, and his heart expectant as only one who has joyfully anticipated finally seeing the face of his God. On his final morning his brothers carried him out into the courtyard and set him under the sorrow drop plum tree where townspeople and natives alike stood in a line that wrapped around the courtyard and out the doors and down the road. Each life he had marked had come to say thank you. As the last townsperson paid their respects and left through the gates, a final figure stepped in. He was brightly dressed and though he leaned on a walking stick, there was a jauntiness to his step. A broad smile shone from under a white beard and a straw sunhat. He sat down on the bench under the tree next to Brother Orlo and placed his hands on his.
“Hello Brother Orlo.” The strangers greeting was so full of warmth that anyone greeted would instantly feel their value to the Maker.
Brother Orlo smiled weakly. “Hello Brother Fadistily.”
Some of the brothers gathered around shifted in discomfort that Brother Orlo greeted someone who had rejected their order as a Brother. The two could sense this ill-ease, and the two smiled only the smile of those who hold no bitterness towards those who cannot understand.
“I have something for you” said Brother Fadistily as he retrieved a small vial that hung around his neck. He pulled the top off and motioned for Brother Orlo to open his mouth. Brother Orlo extended his tongue, closed his eyes, and Brother Fadistily dabbed three drops of pure golden honey onto the old man’s tongue. He closed his mouth, sighed with every contentment, and smiled.
“Thank you, Brother.”
“Thank you, Brother.”
The two said nothing else to each other. They rested in the comfort that one day they would both be able to talk for centuries and share their stories in full. But as the sun set, a holy silence was kept as Brother Fadistily remained, holding Brother Orlo’s hand until God lead him home.
Adam is a vagabond of the arts. He is an animator by training, a media specialist by vocation, a church arts project coordinator by choice and a writer by hobby. Though he “still hasn’t found what he’s looking for”, in his wandering through the arts he has found the firm conviction that God has been writing His story through our stories since the beginning, and He’s not done yet. Adam is also a contributor to the ministry “God Thru the Arts” and is slowly working at his own passion project “The Witness Cloud” – which explores the stories of those listed in Hebrews 11, and seeks to find the “True Myths” that also point to God through the human journey using the arts. Adam and his wife Sarah have 3 children and live in Northern Colorado. His artistic interests range from G.K. Chesterton to Looney Tunes. Follow Adam on Instagram here.