Editor’s note: This is the second post in a four-part series on objects from church that shed light on the spiritual practice of waiting this Advent.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:78-79).
The bells rang too many times this year.
With Advent here and the beginning of the church year, I’m hoping that they ring a little less in the coming months. For when a church bell rings in my town, you know it means death. For every death, the bells ring. For the number of years of each person’s life, the bells ring. And there have been a lot of deaths this year.
On All Saints Day, we lit candles to remember those who died and the bell tolled. For each name we heard one single toll. And we remembered the bell that tolled on the day of that person’s death—the ringing that went on and on for the number of years they had lived. The ringing that stopped us in our tracks. The ringing that wouldn’t bring back our loved ones. The ringing that brought us to tears. The ringing that echoed through the town.
Sometimes the bell rang, and I knew who had died. Other times it rang and I wondered who had died. Each time the bell rang, I stopped what I was doing and waited.
I listened to the bell ring.
I sat quietly.
I gave thanks for life.
The bells rang too many times this year, but the bells taught me something.
Lessons in waiting.
In life. In death.
Lessons about the God whose love echoes in our lives from the beginning to the end and beyond.
I think of the man whose job it is to ring the bell at our church every time someone dies. He gets a phone call from the pastor and then he comes to the church. I’ve never seen him ring the bell, but I can imagine him climbing up the stairs and getting his timer ready. Once he arrives, he calculates how long he’ll need to ring the bell every 10 seconds and then puts a timer on.
And then he rings.
Over and over again.
One ring for each year of the person’s life.
He calls us to attention. He calls us to stop, listen and wait.
The days of December are full of bell ringing—but not the kind that we hear in our town. In December, you hear bells of joy and hope and gift giving. You hear the sleigh bells. You hear the Salvation Army bells. You hear excitement and anticipation for the Christmas season.
But I can’t help but hear the bells of the Christmas season and think of our town’s bells and the lives that have been honored each year.
And when I hear a bell signaling death, I can’t help but think of life.
So what of all the bells that are ringing this holiday season?
When a bell rings this Advent and Christmas, can we collectively stop and wait? Can we stop what we’re doing? Can we give thanks for the precious, fleeting moment that we are in? Can we praise God for the gift of our family and friends in our midst?
The bells are ringing.
We are waiting.
We are living.
And God’s love keeps ringing for us.