Friday, May 6, 2011

Thomas Merton: Hear the Bells

I was reading from Thomas Merton’s sublime Thoughts in Solitude.  I ran across a remarkable passage on the meaning of bells in the Church.

Thomas Merton, a monk, has something beautiful to share about the use of bells in the Monastery or Church:

“Bells are meant to remind us that God alone is good, that we belong to God, that we are not living for this world.  They break in on our cares in order to remind us that all things pass away and that our preoccupations are not important.  They speak to us of our freedom, which responsibilities and transient cares make us forget.  They are the voice of our alliance with the God of heaven.  They tell us we are God’s true temple.  They call us to peace with God within ourselves.” …

Merton goes on to give voice to the bells, so we can hear what they are saying to us:

“…the bell says: ‘We have spoken for centuries from the towers of the great churches. We have spoken to the saints, your fathers, in their land. We called them, as we call you, to sanctity. What is the word with which we called them?

We did not merely say, “Be good, come to Church.” We did not merely say, “Keep the commandments”, but above all “Christ is risen, Christ is risen!” And we said: “come with us, God is good, salvation is not hard, [God’s] love has made it easy!”

As I reflect on Merton’s passage, I am reminded that the bells compel us, as in Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet (c.f. Matthew 22.1-13), to come into the Kingdom, and receive God’s love: “And his servants going forth into the ways, gathered together all that they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was filled with guests”- Matthew 22.10. 

Yes, God’s love has made salvation easy.  Jesus tells us “If you then being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children: how much more will your Father who is in heaven, give good things to them that ask him?”- Matthew 7.11; and again, “[God] is kind to the unthankful, and to the evil.” – Luke 6.35.

God first loved us. This is the Gospel. And the bells invite us to imbibe this love. So when you hear church bells in your neighborhood, remember that God loves you the way you are- you do not have to be “good.” As Christ teaches us “None is good but one, that is God.” (Mark 10.18). God loves us anyway; all we need do is accept that love.

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