Knowing that today’s afternoon temperature would reach well over 100, I went outside and sat on the patio early this morning. In the distance I could hear the hum from freeway traffic and nearer to hand the cock-a-doodle-doo of some neighbor’s secret boarder. Then, after a few minutes, came the delicate chime of church bells. It was Sunday, I recollected, and the bell, in a sweet voice, was summoning parishioners to an early service.
The sound immediately brought to mind a painting I had seen many years ago, “Angelus,” by Jean-François Millet. In this deeply meditative picture a man and woman are standing, heads bowed and hands folded, while on the ground about them lay the tools they have been using to dig potatoes. Millet said of the picture, “The idea for Angelus came to me because I remembered that my grandmother, hearing the church bell ringing while we were working in the fields, always made us to stop work to say the Angelus prayer for the poor departed.”
Traditionally, the church bell would be rung at 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m., not only acting as a marker for the beginning, middle and end of the work day, but also to remind people of the day’s spiritual dimensions. The bell’s duty was to say, “Wake up! Be present.”
The demands of the world are constantly vying for our attention – money, jobs, relationships, politics, the future ….. Even as we lay in bed at night, thoughts struggle for dominance in our consciousness. Like a sword, the clear, sharp sound of a bell cuts through that incessant mental chatter to remind us that Life is not the situations we find ourselves in, not the past we might regret or the future we may fear, but Life is this very present moment in which the bell is ringing.
It is no coincidence that bells and chimes are used throughout the world, in many cultures, for this same purpose – from the giant gongs of Far Eastern temples to the bells of Christian monasteries and the delicate cymbals of meditation halls.
The ringing of the bell gives a voice to the inhabitants of mineral world, that silent kingdom which appeared at earth’s birth and will be there at the last. Impenetrable, immovable, mute, the minerals are the silent witnesses of history – and perhaps their steadfast nature is the most appropriate agent to act as a reminder of this transitory life.
In calling us to attention, the bells reminds us to be grateful, to be aware, to be present, to willingly participate in Life, as did Mary in the drama of the Annunciation
V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with Thee;
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen
V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done unto me according to thy word….