Sounding The Bell
“From the rising of the sun, to the place where it sets, the Name of the lord is to be praised “ Psalm 113:3
On a recent visit to a busy suburb of Tunis, I was struck by the frequent calls to prayer throughout each day from 5.15 am to after sunset at 6.30 pm. As there are many mosques in the immediate vicinity, the collective calls of the muezzins would rise melodically above the constant background noise of barking dogs, traffic and airplanes flying into Tunis Carthage Airport. Each time I heard the call, I was drawn into awareness of God-with-us whether I was out shopping or playing with my granddaughter in the house.
As I watched the people in the neighbourhood making their way to the local mosque, I thought about our bell at The Bield sounding out the call to Morning and Evening prayers. Our ship's bell is a constant feature in the life of the Bield, providing us with a rhythm and an anchoring in the day. Visitors often ask if they can have a go and try to ring the bell. But there is a technique to it which has taken me many months to master and with grateful thanks to Gwen, our housekeeper who explained how you have to stand back, hold the rope loosely and steadily pull it towards you so that the clapper smoothly hits against the shell. There is something very calming about ringing this bell, counting out the 9 beats for Morning prayer and 5 for Evening prayer. The sonorous sound travels as far as the curling pond, the woods and labyrinth and up into the bedrooms.
The chapel is very welcoming at this time of year with the fire crackling away and in the silence of our gathering, we are held together in that prayerful space with the wind blowing outside or the rain falling against the windows and roof. We need these times of coming together to pray collectively for our community and ourselves and to share our thoughts on the day's scriptures. Sometimes, the bell can be an intrusion into our schedule and we would rather spend that extra half an hour caught up in our busyness. Yet, often this time of returning to God's presence can be a time of spiritual nourishment. The evening service invites us to stop and reflect on our day’s work, the encounters we have had with others and to hold others in prayer as the day draws to a close.
In the monastic tradition, there is a call to prayer 7 times a day, a regular returning to God’s presence in the midst of our daily routine. Macrina Wiederkehr calls these times “ sacred pauses” and has written an excellent small volume of prayers and liturgies for our time:
“Greet the hours
with joyful awareness.
Greet the hours
with faithful presence.
Greet the hours
with a reverential bow.
Greet the hours
with a sacred pauses” (1)
Is there any space in our lives for these sacred pauses? Can we set an alarm on our phones or laptops to bring us back from our busy agenda into God’s loving arms at regular times throughout the day. How can we hear the bell sound in our own hearts calling us to prayerful attention?
(1) Macrina Wiederhkehr Seven Sacred Pauses Sorin Books Notre Dame, IN