Lately I find myself reflecting on the changes we have experienced over the past 18 months. As we move out of the heights of the pandemic, the future looks hopeful. I am seeing life the way I have not seen it for what seems like quite a while. Ferris Bueller’s famous words come to mind, “Life moves pretty fast. If you do not stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
The momentum of change has brought us more activities and adventures, from football games and outdoor music venues, to changes for many in the work environment. Life is moving pretty fast as we begin a new normal, whatever that may be. The transformation is not complete yet, so we keep adapting at work, in our homes and families, and at school. We also find that we are faced with adapting to new challenges and engaging with unfamiliar stressors. Life can move amazingly fast, but we certainly do not want to miss it, especially the important things in life that we cherish.
Joan Chittister writes in her new book, “The Monastic Heart,” about remembering. Remember what is important. On the grounds of every Benedictine monastery there are bells or bell towers. They were a common and essential part of life over the centuries in monastic communities. But over the past 50 years or so, many have been replaced with electronic carillons or just newer bells. In monastic life, the bells mark the passing of a moment, perhaps of work, of prayer, or other important moments in life. They ring bells not to mark time but as a way to draw attention back to what is really important in life. Those important things include being aware of your purpose in life and God’s presence within and around us. The bells are a reminder to mark and recalibrate if you are centered on what is actually important. It is a time to be aware of what you are doing and evaluate if it is indeed what you are meant to be doing. The bells provide for self-reflection and also gratitude for God’s work in our lives and the world.
Our lifestyle does not include bells ringing throughout the day to help us remember God in our midst, but in a sense it does. We may not have bell towers in the places we spend our day, but we can set bells to ring on our phone. They are not monastic bells, but close enough. We can set them at particular times to center us. You might choose to set them for morning, noon, midafternoon, and evening. The first bell might be a time for prayer and remembering your baptism. It’s a time to reflect on how God is leading you by specific ways of living today, or healing of certain relationships. Maybe another bell ring is a time to remember what is really of important concern to God such as those who are suffering - the hungry, the grieving, the poor, those fleeing persecution, and other concerns that you can identify. As you turn your heart to what is important to God, you are turning to God’s love, unity, and peace, dismissing the rhetoric of division and duality that continues to fester in our country. Instead, we turn to God and reach out to help the suffering as we are called. Perhaps it’s noticing the needs around you. Another bell ring could address whatever might be weighing you down. Perhaps it’s paying attention to what consumes your thinking that you need to discard.
The bells are a practice that keeps us aware that we are people of God, created by God, and God is not finished with us yet. This creation continues each moment of the day as God uses us to continue his creation. A bell ring late in the day is a time for thanks and gratitude to God for particular people you encountered or connected with earlier that day, for family, pets, neighbors, and coworkers.
The spiritual practice of bells to mark God’s work in your life is a discipline for which you may have been seeking. I pray it serves you well!