Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Nights of Many Bells

In some monasteries, the new day begins in the middle of the night.  Never having lived this sort of life, I again turn to the experience of one who has done so.  "Not long after midnight," writes Mother Mary Francis PCC, "Sister Sacristan...sets her jaw for what is at once a beautiful and a grim task:  to rouse all the other sleeping nuns.  It is a beautiful task because the sacristan's bell is summoning the community to a midnight tryst with God.  It is a grim business because Poor Clares unfortunately carry their souls about in the same clay casing found on the rest of humanity.  Consequently, though the soul is ready and waiting to go to the choir... the flesh finds the idea not at all stimulating.... Blackness clings to the great, tall windows in the choir, and the huge grille over the altar reaches long fingers of shadow down toward the chanting nuns.... I always feel.. that we are walking down all the avenues of the universe, lighting God's lamps on every corner. (A Right to Be Merry, pp. 115-118)

Out here in the world, I can't identify with bells that rattle me from sleep in the middle of the ni...

O but wait.  O yes.  I can.  The nights of many bells were several decades ago for me now, but some of you are reading these very words between two such nights.  We know what it's like.  We're deep into a sound sleep, having finally fallen exhausted into bed, when the baby cries.  Is it time for her to eat again?... oh, it can't be!  We drag to our feet, get the baby, feed her, and now she needs a diaper change.  Three hours later, this sweet voiced little "bell" rings again.  Several months after this, Baby Girl is finally sleeping six hours straight, but her brother has begun having nightmares.  And then there are those times when a virus sweeps through the family....

Parents, no matter how much we love our little ones, carry our souls about in the same clay casing found on the rest of humanity.  Our hearts want to rush to the baby, want to comfort a scared five year old.  But our flesh does not find crawling from a warm bed stimulating.

On we walk, however.  Out of bed we climb.  We sacrifice comfort to the summons of the night bells.  We are the ones God has put in charge of lighting lamps of love with our tenderness.  If God has placed little Michael in my life and my home and my heart, then little Michael's cry serves as a bell.  Even at midnight.

May we be given grace to hear the goodness in the bells.

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