I am no stranger to large bells.
As a student and a professor, I encountered large bells in the carillons or bell towers of the campuses where I studied or worked. (If you’re ever on the campus of Denison University in Granville, OH, and hear the bells in the tower on Swasey Chapel chime out the song “Happy Birthday,” you’re listening to a recording of yours truly, guest bell ringer on a frigid January day between semesters.)
As a resident member of the staff at St. Anthony’s, I encounter a large bell on a daily basis, calling the community to prayer.
I like the daily ringing of our bell. It reminds me to leave the solitude of my room in the morning, so that I can share in the joys and sorrows of the day with everyone else who finds a home at St. Anthony’s: guests, volunteers, and residents alike. It reminds me to pause in the middle of the day, so that I can celebrate love and the mystical and the mystical properties of love. It reminds me to bring my work to a close, so that I can rest, recreate, and care for the gift of my body and soul. The daily calls to prayer mark off the passage of time without really referencing the artificial construct of time; instead, they set an organic pulse for living, a pulse that’s tied to spiritual wholeness rather than economic pressures.
Moreover, the daily ringing of our bell reminds me that it’s OK to talk about prayer, to do prayer, and to be prayer for one another. This idea that it’s OK to talk about prayer, to do prayer, and to be prayer for one another isn’t exactly new to me. Even still, the reminder is helpful.
I came to St. Anthony’s from a 15-year journey through the halls of academia and now find myself orbiting somewhat awkwardly on the edges of two worlds that are more different than they are alike. I’ve metaphorically crossed from one side to the other of the classic, if oversimplified, science vs. religion conflict. I’ve gone from a world driven by scientific definitions of knowledge and reason, a world fueled by empirical research and the pursuit of funding for said research, to a world that isn’t really driven at all. It’s a world of simply being. Being with, being for, being love, being loved. It’s a world of prayer. So often, the ministry of hospitality calls on us simply to listen, simply to be present, simply to assure others of our presence. So often, the best – or perhaps only – way to minister is to simply promise to hold another in prayer.
And this is where that awkward dance between worlds begins. It’s not exactly that prayer is under attack in academia, as we’re sometimes led to believe. It’s more that prayer – when it’s noticed at all in academia – is a quaint or amusing curiosity; something to be studied, perhaps, as a cultural artifact, but nothing to be taken seriously or incorporated into daily life. Yet here on the other side of the science / religion divide, there’s nothing at all quaint, curious, or amusing about prayer. It’s the phenomenon that binds together not just the day, but each of us. It’s the phenomenon that fashions us into community; it’s the foundation upon which we build when we seek compassion, compromise, and peace.
I cannot fear you when I sit with you in stillness and gentleness, or when my voice falls into synch with the rhythms of your life through the rhythms of psalms and songs. I cannot fear you when I hold you in prayer. When I cannot fear you, I cannot hate you or degrade you; I cannot curse you or make war against you. Where fear is absent, love may enter in.
That seems to me like more than a quaint curiosity. It seems like a pretty OK thing.
Let’s hold one another in prayer.