A few years ago I was on a mom's retreat that was held at the Community of St. John down near Peoria. While we were there, we got to eat lunch with the brothers. This was the first time I had ever experienced a silent lunch. The food was fabulous, but you couldn't tell anyone that. If you wanted seconds, you had to patiently wait for someone to happen to pass the food to you. We've tried silent dinners at our house, but usually they end up in everyone trying to come up with a new form of sign language to communicate their desires, which creates more of a distraction than the usual noise does! The one thing I did bring home from that luncheon was the image of the items that were on the table in front of the head brother (I can't think of his correct title!). On the table were a candle, a crucifix and a bell. I liked the idea of having those on my table, so we added the candles and, in lieu of a standing crucifix, we have statues that reflect the different times of the liturgical year. Then I got to thinking more about that bell. I reflected upon all the times I would hear the nuns at the Poor Clare monastery walk the hallway ringing the bell five minutes before prayer or dinner time. Since we live in a rather spread out house on five acres, you never know where you are going to find children hiding. I knew I was tired of yelling for everyone at every meal, so I decided to try the bell idea and bring a little bit of the monastic life into our home.
Now before every meal, instead of yelling inside and outside, I just get to ring the bell. It sounds quite delightful compared to my blaring voice, especially at 7:00 a.m. when everyone is still asleap. Today, though, I threw everyone for a loop and I rang the bell at 10:00 a.m., a time that no one is used to hearing the bell. And do you know what happened??????? Absolutely nothing. Everyone knew it was not time for food, so no one came running! What if it would have been a fire alarm, or something serious or something extra delightful? Guess it didn't matter, it wasn't the usual bell ringing time so they all figured it must not be important.
This all coincided with a reflection that a friend sent to me that I actually had time to read today. This excerpt comes from Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI:
"All monasteries have a bell. St. Bernard, in writing his rules for monasticism, told his monks that whenever the monastic bell rang, they were to drop whatever they were doing and go immediately to the particular activity (Prayer, meals, work, study,sleep) to which the bell was summoning them. He was adamant that they respond immediately, stating that if they were writing a letter they were to stop in mid-sentence when the bell rang. The idea in his mind was that when the bell called, it called you to the next task and you were to respond immediately, not because you want to, but because it's time, it's God's time. For him, the monastic bell was intended as a discipline to stretch the heart by always taking you beyond your own agenda to God's agenda."
Well, it appears as though we have some work to do in that area known as right-away-obedience! I have to say, though, that overall the bell is a nice, pleasant addition to our family life. I'll just have to keep trying those bell-drills! St. Bernard, Pray for us!