Friday, September 30, 2011

the first bell

When “the cloistered heart” first occurred to me in the mid 1980s, it was nothing more than a phrase. 

Today, thinking over all that has developed in these years, I’m surprised to suddenly feel inspired to “think BACKWARD.”  Back to the earliest monastery I envisioned:  one not constructed (yet) of analogy, but simply an imaginary building made of weathered stone.  This “monastery” was deep in a forest, trees shrouding it so its walls could barely be seen.  My initial impression was of green, the dark dark green of flora huddled together.  Moss and vines crept up the building’s walls.  Trees were evergreens, maples, birches.   Smells were cedar and pine, and freshly dug moist earth.  A clean whiff of lavender might be coming from the garden .  And incense; certainly there was incense, curling out through chapel windows.  I knew the walls inside would be permeated with incense and the scent of beeswax candles, smells that had seeped for decades into plaster and wood.  

Sounds of leaves rustling in a gentle breeze…  twitters and caws from above... a distant rustle of deer in the underbrush.  And suddenly, a bell.  From a tower high above, the peal of a bell;  its voice deep and throaty.  It did not shatter the silence; it enhanced it.  Somehow this bell belonged here, its tolls as natural to the scene as a dove’s coo.  Inside the walls, the gentle rustle of soft shoes shuffling, a swish of habits, the quiet of souls who’ve learned to gather in silence.  And then the song.  Chant... rising, falling, sweeping, soothing, celebrating.  I listened from outside and felt that hint of longing.  That first drawing, wooing, cloistered heart longing…

In the midst of my busy life, I heard the bell call.

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