I filled in today as the celebrant at the noon worship service at our diocesan cathedral in Nashville. The chapel in the cathedral reminds me of an ancient place, with stone walls and unadorned arches, and, except for the handful of stained glass windows, minimally decorated. It is a simple, but warm space that seems to embrace you with that simplicity when you are within its confines.
One of things I enjoy about that service is that it is announced by the tolling of the cathedral bells. They chime for a long time (several minutes), and today I got to thinking about bells calling a community to worship. In ancient times, and perhaps in some places still, church bells also called a community to gather for other reasons: to receive news, to make announcements impacting those who resided within earshot (or beyond), or to engage in dialogues or debates about matters necessitating decisions or action. In short, bells called the community together to be just that, a community.
For the most part, we no longer function that way. Rarely do we gather as a whole to function as a community, unless a tragedy or crisis requires such an action or response. We get our news by other, less interactive means, and sometimes we choose not be informed about what is happening in our local governments, schools, or neighborhoods.
During today’s tolling of the bells, I wondered if those who were outside the cathedral would stop to listen, to reflect, or to wonder who might respond to the call of those deep, resonant bongs. I wondered if others lamented the fragmentation of our society that gives us the choice of being strangers. As I rose to begin the service I wondered who might have been within earshot of the tolling that might have been fed by what the few who were gathered inside were starting to do. Part of the grace of prayer is that I didn’t need to know names or see faces to offer blessings on their lives.
It’s true, as well, that I don’t need to know who reads this blog to extend the same. May all who read this be blessed this day. Each time I hear the tolling of the bells, I will remember to include you in my prayers.