I was walking on the well-worn cobblestones in the old market town in the west of England. Melksham was Thomas Hardy countryside (Tess of the Turbeville’s, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and many others) and was still marked with the signs of an era gone by. The tiny, terraced homes and cottages led the way towards the sound of the Friday night bellringers at St. Michaels and Angels nearby.
As I walked up the narrow street leading to Canon Square, the bells became considerably louder, beckoning me towards a Church which did not have a Friday evening service, but did have the bellringers of many years gathering for their evening practice.
Walking through the graveyard towards the side entrance, the Church was immersed in complete darkness aside from a light emitting from the north facing and near the transept. I walked around the corner to the entrance which showed an open door, stone steps and the lengthy climb for the bellringers to reach the belltower of the Church. The bells were now, very loud as I stood outside for a while, listening to various peels as they practiced for the upcoming weekend and weekly services.
It occurred to me the importance of these Church bells over the years. When few towns had, or could afford clocks, the clocktower of the Church was a way of noting the beginning and end of the workday. Cities such as nearby Bath used the tower at the Abbey to notify all those in a 14 mile surround what the time was, time to rise, time to begin work, start lunch, end the day, all nicely punctuated with prayer times. In recent years, these bells have had to be muted as they create too much disruption to the commerce and traders in the city. Seems like everyone wants to control the timeline of their workers and environment without the overreach of a clocktower or Church informing them of how their day is progressing.
There, seems to me at least, to be a direct relationship between the peel of these bells and the gift of hope. Beckoning us to listen for a moment to a call to prayer, recognizing a union, such as a marriage, remembering the death of Christ on a Friday afternoon, or even better, His resurrection.
Bells are an audible sign of God’s hope in our world. The oncoming of grace and a reminder of his presence. Here we use them extensively to punctuate the day with this special language of God, one we can all hear.
I wonder what your impression bells, particularly Church bells, make in your life? Or have made in your life? Do they invoke hope? Or just open that door to us, as bellringers for others in their lives?
Reflection and Photograph © 2021 Dr. Michael J. Cunningham, O.F.S.
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