Church bells ring and I’m suddenly walking down a narrow, cobblestone street wrapped in a long wool coat, a scarf around my neck, and wearing a classic wool style cloche hat. It is twilight and the sky is stained with a leftover vermilion sunset. Feathery snowflakes swirl before me. I imagine angel wings as they come together and dance. I’m transported to this scene each time I’m in a city and church bells ring. In this vision, there is anticipation and joy as I hurry to open the heavy wooden doors of an old spired brick church. Catholic? Protestant? I don’t know. Another life? Although I wear cloche hats and long coats sometimes, this image is timeless and ephemeral, full of ardor and expectation. And it is always winter.
Have I walked into many churches with bells ringing like this? I can’t recall that I have, but certainly I’ve heard many church bells ringing over the years. They are always enchanting and magical. I have no guilt about not attending church services, nor is there an association with religion. Church bells ring and I’m at once filled with exultation and feel loved, and that anything can happen. And just below the surface of my heart, I’m always hoping something wonderful can happen. Always, even if I’m gloomy and discouraged. It is there, this wordless presence, sometimes just a little poke and sometimes a big hug.
Is it a siren call? I could go through the doors to the impossible light of religion that can hypnotize, intoxicate, dominate, and make me small or large, depending on what sermon I drink. But again, I don’t believe it’s the church calling me as the bells ring and I instantly go under a spell. Perhaps this experience is a symbolic human quest for the divine, to love and be loved. I believe all of us have this desire, even if we don’t speak of it. And yet this is something else.
Alas, I’ve never made it through those heavy, imposing, oak doors in my ethereal imaginings while church bells ring. I continue to walk and say nothing to my companion, or companions, if one or many are with me. It all happens vividly and for as long as the bells ring. I might skip and dance ahead of my friends, if they are there. If I’m alone, I stop, move aside, close my eyes, and let myself soar. I am usually with others and they don’t seem to even notice my instant rapture. I say nothing of it, for it is mine alone, for whatever it can mean. Past life, divine embrace, hope, or even being encultured by the Catholic church as a young one. I adore telling the stories and feelings of my life, but after the church bell ringing is over, I forget it until the next time it happens. And I forget to tell my friends, or felt it un-necessary. It is mine alone. Until now…
Church bell ringing isn’t the only experience that puts me into a trance. Nature also claims my spirit, although nature can be indifferent and fierce at times. I’d like to say meditation puts me into a trance, but only a little, although it does calm me. Music lifts me out of myself and makes me more of myself, offering dance to both shake off the demons and to express joy. It has a modicum of that church bell ringing place. I’m exploring new territory because I’ve already bushwhacked through so many parts of me that I can walk with ease in.
I’ve always looked within to find sanctuary, but oftentimes I’d find a few haunted rooms that, at first, I avoided going into. Eventually, I had to. But the church bells didn’t really ring there. It’s ongoing and necessary, finding refuge within, especially as my body ages, seemingly at high speed. All this talk about being present, grounded, and letting the mind take a back seat and not drive us too fast into a ditch or over a cliff can be so much work. Creating new synapses, pathways, and avoiding the potholes of self damning, fear, and anxiety is a full-time job. There are many post-traditional spirituality speakers and healers on the lecture circuits who talk about being happy for no reason. Can we cultivate this? Doesn’t it sound delightful? Wars, traumas, illnesses and we can still be happy even if these things come to us, too? You tell me…we all have an option to breathe or hold our breaths. And if we breathe, there is life and we can go on.
What is the meaning of my church bell ringing, I ask myself. Do I need to understand it? Do you?
This summer I watched and listened to a bumble bee devouring the nectar of my Hot Lips Turtlehead Perennial bush. It went from kissing all the ripened pink lips on the bush and then finally found the lips of his or her choice. And then, what a party! The buzzing was a baritone most of the time, so maybe a male? I don’t want to get into gender issues here…and then he went to bass with a rich rumble buzzing. He nestled himself deep into the flower and disappeared, but I could still hear his singing, his joy. Apparently, this loud buzzing causes much vibration that shakes the nectar lose. He knew what he was doing.
After a few minutes with this bumble bee experience, I went into the church bell ringing trance, but I wasn’t skipping happily into a church on an early winter evening. I was somewhere else…free, anticipatory, yes, but mostly transcendent and one with the bumble bee and what was most remarkable was I heard weeping in my imagination. Love weeping. And then I was weeping soundlessly. We were both weeping for love of creation. Who was weeping with me? I don’t know exactly, except it had to be divine. And it is a poor choice of a word, as is Creator, God, even Spirit. Wordless…Nameless, but ever so real.
And then this summer there was a babbling brook that stopped me in the woods to tell me something. I didn’t know what, but the water was singing, sighing, and speaking truth. I thought that if I wasn’t there, nor no-one ever stopped to listen, it wouldn’t matter. It was the church bells ringing again in the water. I walked on, having been spoken to about love again.
What is the meaning of my many years of church bell ringing? It is simple and profound, understood and misunderstood, but mostly, it’s an experience of entering into the holy of holies, being invited to experience divine love. I can poorly describe it as a master painter sharing art with someone who not only sees the colors and story, but feels it. Did I cross a momentary threshold of laughing and crying with the One who created it all? I think of Michelangelo’s ‘The Creation of Adam’ on the Sistine Chapel. I visited once and was mesmerized. The touch of deep love that words cannot define.
In Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Prince Andrei Nikolayevich Balkonsky, says while he is dying from war wounds, “All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love. Everything is united by it alone. Love is God, and to die means that I, a particle of love, shall return to the general and eternal source.”
And in the movie series, Prince Andrei says that even the fly buzzing in the room he must love. The bumble bee, the brook, the monarch, but please not the tick…
I know now that the ringing of church bells has always been a call to love.
Tell all the truth but tell it slant --
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind --
- Emily Dickinson