Those dear, innocent bells! Little do they know that for as many as they welcome into monastic life, there are dozens more who want no part of it, because of them.
For each man or woman on earth who lives according to a rule or schedule of devotion, there are dozens, hundreds, perhaps hundreds of thousands who boldly say, “I could not and would not live under the regimen of bells, a devotional schedule, punching in to spend time with God.” Even among those who do love the Lord Jesus Christ, the idea of developing such a well-ordered life with Him does not always appeal. “Surely,” they say, “He is not glorified by that kind of forced worship.”
The monastic says, “He wasn’t glorified by all the time I could have spent with Him and didn’t, either.”
For most monastics, the bells become the sweet sound of the rhythm of the life they have chosen, a call to worship, to prayer, to four, perhaps five, or even seven daily trysts with the Lord they love. Nevertheless, one of the most difficult early adjustments is that of stopping in the middle of a project, closing up shop just when you’re making progress, donning the mantle reserved for Chapel attendance, and filing silently into one’s place for as much as an hour (and sometimes more!) of Gregorian chant.
… that’s why they entered.
One young postulant, about to enter her Novitiate year, said that she found herself standing on a street corner one day, with all the pulse and energy of a big city around her, the life she had formerly enjoyed, but asking herself, “Is this all there is for me?” She had a big job in a big city, but she also had a big love for God, and her busy life was not nurturing that love at all.
Did she have to enter a cloister in order to fulfill the desires of her heart toward the Lord? We are the ones who will be able to answer that question.
Even when we are successful in setting daily parameters for ourselves, when we can identify the built-in reminders that keep us within them, and even if we have bells that sound to keep us faithful in our marketplace vocations, we will never have quite what is to be had in cloister. It won’t take long for us see how many and how distracting are the phone calls, many of them unsolicited, the interruptions that come with the people we care about, the disturbances that creep in with every little diversion in our lives. A book we are reading will have us thinking about the plot for days; the music we listen to reverberates in our ears long after we heard it, perhaps standing in line at the grocery store; conversations we have with friends leave us contemplative, and not toward the Lord in every case. When such things are reduced by 75 or 100%, it makes a noticeable difference. When the things that enter our minds and our senses are always toward God, it makes a difference.
That is why they entered, our cloistered counterparts.
The bells and gongs and clappers call them to the hours of each day most precious to them, even if their natural inclinations say, like ours, “Just a minute! Let me finish what I’m doing, and then I’ll come.” When twenty or thirty other women are waiting for you, looking at your empty place in Choir, when they won’t be fully at ease until you are there with them, you learn quickly to attend to the bells that call you.
It’s rather like the young mother with a fussy child, trying to get him quieted for sleep in the afternoon. She leaves him, perhaps still sobbing that he has to close his eyes for an hour or so, and she says on her way out the door, “I wish someone would make me take an hour’s rest every day!” Monastics have taken that wishing into their own hands, and together they take time out of every day to bring themselves before God in worship and intercession.
Together they worship and pray. If ever there was an evidence of strength in numbers, it is to be found in cloister. We will take a look at that brand of unity one day soon.
Meanwhile, I hope you’re enjoying your extra five or ten minutes with the Lord, fitted somewhere into your day as a reminder that He is near and that you are glad. Have you felt yet that it is a waste of time, too interruptive to your day, not worth the effort? If you haven’t, you probably will, but your own choice will sanctify those minutes. I keep a few bells at hand in my house, and often will I ring them as I begin my Psalms Office or Matins in the morning … I love how they say, “These minutes are now the Lord’s own,” and somehow my heart answers them, “You speak truly, dear little friends.”
The new bells of Notre Dame Cathedral.
Mirabelle, Wikipedia, by permission