Bells are a very important part of our monastic life. They ring several times a day as they call us to prayer. People often remark that it is so quiet and peaceful inside the monastery walls. When we hear this, we might find ourselves thinking about that. We can get very busy with our ministries, our everyday chores and meeting guests who arrive that we can feel a bit frazzled like everyone else in the world.
But it is our monastic bells that call us back to the essence of our vocation, to seek God and to pray for our world. St. Benedict in his Rule dedicates a whole chapter (Ch. 47) to Announcing the Hours for the Work of God: “It is the abbot’s care to announce, day and night, the hour for the Work of God. He may do so personally or delegate the responsibility to a conscientious [member], so that everything may be done at the proper time.”
In 1980, the Oblates of our community donated the funds for the installation of our first Carillon Bell System shortly after the Oblate program was established. Prior to that, Sisters would run from one area to another, up and down steps, to ring a hand bell to call the Sisters to prayer. A few months ago, after over 40 years of service, the bell system finally ceased working. Because of its age and the progress of technology, the current system could not be updated or repaired. We offered the Oblates the opportunity to assist with funding the purchase of a new system. Within two weeks, our Oblates along with a few other donors had the new bell system fully funded!
We certainly missed the bells calling us to prayer as we waited patiently for the arrival of the new system. There are not many of us who would be able to navigate the halls of the monastery with a hand bell! Yet, we know within our hearts when it is time for prayer, and we show up. Sister Joan Chittister, in her book Wisdom Distilled from the Daily (Harper: San Francisco 1992), has this to say: “Benedictine bell towers are designed to call the attention of the world to the fragility of the axis on which it turns. Benedictine bell towers require us to listen even when the world would not hear…The bells that call monastics to prayer ring outside the chapel as well as inside the monastery.” The bells remind us to listen with the ear of our hearts and remind us of our call to pray for our world.
The new system was installed in time for the Feast of the Ascension a couple of weeks ago. We are so glad to hear the bells once again calling us to prayer. Some of our Sisters expressed the following comments on once again hearing the bells.:
Sister Lynn Marie: The first day I heard the bells ring again I just smiled and thought, “Hooray, we have bells again calling us to important times of prayer.” And I think it is a good witness to all who hear the bells in our vicinity. It reminds them we are living in a house of God.
Sister Mary: My heart sings every time I hear the joyful new bells calling us to the chapel for prayer.
Sister Minona Anne: My heart rejoices to hear our bells chime again, calling us to prayer. So grateful to our Oblates for their generosity.
Sister Treva: Rejoice with us! Our bells are ringing once again and we are grateful indeed. We thank our Oblates who once again gifted us with this call to prayer. Come visit and share our joy! We rejoice in the Lord always!
We are truly grateful for our Oblates and other donors who so generously gifted us with the new bell system and we look forward to having them here to hear God’s joyous invitation to prayer with us.
Take a listen to the first bell that rings several times a day to remind us what our journey is all about.
By Sister Priscilla Cohen, OSB