The bee buzz and dove song of spiritual meditation

  1. Flies, locusts and bees

‘Every meditation is a thought,’ wrote Francis de Sales some 500 years ago, ‘but not every thought is meditation.’ He compared three ways of thinking:

[] daydreaming or simple musing he compared to flies visiting one flower after another ‘without drawing anything from them’

[] study ‘in which the mind is like locusts which promiscuously fly upon flowers and leaves, to eat them and nourish themselves thereupon’ and

            [] meditation when ‘the mind [moves] … as a sacred bee flies amongst the flowers of holy mysteries to extract from them the honey of divine love.’ He defined meditation as: ‘an attentive thought entertained in the mind to excite the will to holy affections and resolutions.’ De Sales continues: ‘The bee flies from flower to flower in the springtime, not for adventure but for purpose, to gather honey to store for the ensuing winter. Such is the devout soul in meditation: she passes from mystery to mystery, to store heavenly affections in her heart against the times of temptation.’

After Hezekiah had said, ‘I will meditate as a dove’ he translated his metaphor: ‘I will recall to mind all my years in the bitterness of my soul.’ ‘For to meditate is to recall to mind [one’s bitter experience also] to the [desired] end of moved affections [emotions], resolution and action [will]’ – in worship of, and obedience to the Lord. Christians are urged to ‘consider – think diligently upon – him who endured such hostility of sinners against himself, not to become learned, but so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted – and instead become patient and constant’ (Hebrews 13:3).

  1. Swallows and dove

Hezekiah, said de Sales, explained the attentive considerations he had of his troubles as both the plaintive plea of the intercessor and the murmured gratitude of the worshipper:

‘I will cry like a young swallow and meditate [Hebrew = ‘murmur’] as a dove’ (Isaiah 38:14).  Whereas ‘the young swallows gape wide in their chirpings, … by contrast, the dove of all the birds murmurs with her beak shut, cooing in her crop, nothing passing outwardly but on a certain resounding echo, and this close murmuring equally serves her in the expression of her grief and love.’       

          * Dove’s laments

‘Hezekiah … in grief made many vocal prayers like the swallow and mental prayers as a dove winding and doubling his thoughts within his heart by an attentive consideration, to excite his soul to bliss and praise the sovereign mercy of God who had brought him back from death’s gate.’ That the swallow’s twittering represented his grief is plain from the king’s phrases in Isaiah 38:14-15, ‘I moan’, ‘my eyes are weary,’ and ‘bitterness of my soul’. And later, (Isaiah 59:11) contrasts the bear’s angry growl with how in meditating ‘we will moan like doves.’

          * Dove’s love songs

The Song of Songs expresses romantic love in similar terms: ‘The turtle dove’s voice has been heard in our land’ – ‘waxing hot with love (comments de Sales) of which she testifies in her most frequent song.’ Then: ‘My dove, show me your face, let your voice resound in my ears; for your voice is sweet, and your face comely and gracious.’

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