Sunday, August 15, 2010

Of Time and Bells

Before I entered the monastery time seemed to be bounded primarily by work and weekends. Monday morning was the beginning of the work week and Friday night was a time of anticipated break and relaxation. There were other markers of time but like most people my experience of time was focused on work.

Time in the monastery is quite different. This week I am “on bells” which has made me reflect on what monastic time means. To be “on bells” means this week I am responsible for the signal to community that it is time for prayer. Ten minutes before each scheduled community prayer time I will ring a chime over the phone system signaling everyone to stop what they are doing and come to prayer. I will then ring one of the four big bells in the sacristy that will let everyone in the area know it is time for prayer.

According to Benedict when anyone hears the signal for prayer they are to stop what they are doing and proceed to the chapel for the appointed office of prayer. In other words the day is not defined by work, it is defined by prayer. Work is what is fit in between the times for prayer. Prayer is the primary work of the monastic and everything else is what has to be done in order to support that time to stop, gather together and come before God in praise and supplication.

It can be hard to get used to the “interruptions” in the monastic schedule. It never seems to fail that just when you are finally settling down and getting something accomplished the bell rings. All of us in the monastery are products of our predominant culture, we tend to define ourselves by the work we do and how much we accomplish during the day. So the constant interruption of the bell can be a constant shock and reminder that we have chosen to live in a different world.

The bells say stop, listen, pay attention. What is your priority? What is your real work? Why are you here? The bells create a rift in the seamless day, the bells force us to stop, they can be a violent invitation to a profound gift. The bells say stop, enter another world, a world of silence where God will whisper to your heart, a world where everyone strives to speak in the same voice of praise and lament. The bells puncture our routine, our safe and controlled world and let in our unpredictable God who invites us to transformation.

Listen for the bells in your life. They are all around. Perhaps it is your turn to be “on bells” for the people in your life. The invitation is always there, the chimes are sounding, it is time to go and pray. It is time for the real work of your life.

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