Monday Morning with Merton: The Charity of the Bells

Not long ago, over at Beyond the Horizon 3, Pia spoke of the somewhat mysterious effect of the sound of bells, and there was a little more chatting about it in the combox….

It reminded me of something I had read recently by Merton, from “Thoughts in Solitude, Chapter XVI:

“Bells are meant to remind us that God alone is good, that we belong to Him, that we are not living for this world. 

They break in upon our cares in order to remind us that all things pass away and that our preoccupations are not important.

They speak to us of our freedom, which responsibilities and transient cares make us forget.

They are the voice of our alliance with the God of heaven.

They tell us that we are His true temple. They call us to peace with Him within ourselves.

The Gospel of Mary and Martha is read at the end of the Blessing of a Church Bell in order to remind us of all these things. 

The bells say: business does not matter. Rest in God and rejoice, for this world is only the figure and the promise of a world to come, and only those who are detached from transient things can possess the substance of an eternal promise.

The bells say: we have spoken for centuries from the towers of great Churches. We have spoken to the saints your fathers, in their land. We called them, as we call you, to sanctity. What is the word with which we called them?

We did not merely say, “Be good, come to Church.” We did not merely say, “Keep the commandments” but above all, “Christ is risen, Christ is risen!” And we said: “Come with us, God is good, salvation is not hard, His love has made it easy!” And this, our message, has always been for everyone, for those who came and for those who did not come, for our song is perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect and we pour our charity out upon all.”


14 thoughts on “Monday Morning with Merton: The Charity of the Bells

  1. What a beautiful reflection. I am (almost) certain that even the Drunks of Sunday love the bells; they do indeed call all. They call us to Him, but instantly lift us, whoever and wherever we are. I grew up in a time and town of a town clock’s tolling the hour (we delayed wristwatches as long as possible!) and even those hourly bells called us back to our center), but we also had Sunday bells calling us to Mass. It was County Elsewhere that I heard the Angelus rung and actually prayed it. When we moved here, we heard bells in the morning, at noon, and at 6 up the street at St. Mary’s. The priest had told us they were carillon bells, but a tape recording, so I underestimated their importance right away and didn’t realize it was the Angelus they were to evoke. At that time, I’d never heard of the Angelus. I don’t recall hearing any bells of late. But once, Sunday bells meant getting all dressed up for 10 a.m. High Mass, wearing the little crosses and grabbing the little missals we had received as a holy gifts somewhere along the way, riding in a cleaned and waxed car with a very polished and freshly hair-cut driver (my uncle!), and then coming back to break our fast at Mere Mere’s with a fried everything breakfast. Dang, girl, you and Merton make me so hungry. 🙂

  2. What C said. And most of all, what TM said. I think about it all the time, and I’m more and more aware of them, you know? In about one minute the first call for evening Mass will start. And a while from now, the first call for evening outdoor Mass at the beach will begin. I think I’ll go to that one.

    But it really does call all, you know. People spend a lot of time outdoors now, and windows are open. Maybe someone who doesn’t normally go, will think about it right now, as the bells toll. And maybe that decision will change his/her life. Wow.

  3. Yes, Pia, it really is the “calling” that is striking, isn’t it, and as C said, they “lift us up”; at the sound of them our hearts and minds are elevated above our natural surroundings to the supernatural, and we are drawn as if to a magnet…

    Sadly, I rarely hear church bells here anymore, but I grew up with them. I miss them dearly, and regret this even more for all the children who have entirely missed out on their spirits being called in this way, and for the memories of it they will never have…

  4. Pia, my parish doesn’t even have bells, as is the case, I believe, with many churches built here within the last 30 to 40 years. I think the two basilicas in Ottawa (one French, one English) still ring the bells on Sunday, but other churches, even if they have them, don’t seem to as much as when I was little. Someone once told me it had to do with “noise bylaws”, but I’m not sure if that’s really true or not.

  5. I heard bells several times when I was away and each and every time I was stilled by them. I remembered Pia’s recent post too and all the comments there and here about the bells and the Angelus etc;
    What Merton says here is really lovely – and all of it so true.
    They distract us only to remind us of how distracted we really are.

  6. Yes, it’s as if they call us for a few moments “out of time”, whether we are concentrating on something that is of importance in our lives (our responsibilities) or if we are merely distracted by the non-important…for a few moments our spirits are reminded of where and with Whom our attention should really be focused.

  7. It would be nice to have bells around us in town somewhere. Daughter (in Ohio) and I were lamenting last night about how different we become while at work, despite our best intentions to not depart from Him. We don’t really expect to evangelize all day, but neither do we expect to be thrown out of Eden so quickly–it’s just baffling. I told her I recall sitting outside of a work place that was totally people-service oriented and worked with some of the finest people in the world, and I prayed to be strongly His for the day, offered it to Him –but still lost God the moment I walked in. She, too. She, too, thought it’d be nice to just work in a greenhouse or out in the fields, where we might not lose Him so quickly. I said maybe we can’t worry about that so much, that maybe — via our good intentions and having chosen His way of life as best we can otherwise — maybe He comes through our actions and words nonetheless. And maybe so through those with whom we work, too. We didn’t talk about bells specifically, but re-reading this, I can see what solace they’d have been if heard within or from many a workplace, for many of us.

  8. Well I was thinking exactly the same thing this morning, after I saw Ann’s comment. I saw a documentary or something not too long ago (and I don’t know if it is like this in every cloister or only some), but the bells rang every time the monks were to change from one duty/assignment/office to another. It was not just for the timing/schedule aspect of their day, but a reminder with each bell that what they were doing was important, but not the “ultimate” in importance…I was thinking that this continual reminder throughout the day, this constant refocusing, is something I wish I could have too, especially at work. But I know it should be natural (supernatural), not artificial…

  9. That’s why I always wore a crucifix; even more than a Scapula, it made me Aware over and over and over –just touching it helped center me again, and even if there was no prayer in words, a silent prayer was there, over and over, for a second. (And I dare not, because certainly I’d get hit by a speeding rickshaw immediately upon leaving the house and be carted off to strange looks at the hospital, but I presume a *natural* reminder [along with penance] was why some saints wore a chain around their waists under their clothes.)

  10. Well then, perhaps I could interest you in my latest venture – a line of colour-coordinated hairshirts (all natural dye, of course). Investment proposals are being accepted immediately, and will be lovingly and painstakingly reviewed. 😉

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