She said it in a serious meeting, so I couldn’t clap my hands or laugh at the wonder and beauty of it out loud. We were talking about death, for goodness sake. We sat around a conference table, discussing a sort of gentle rubric, a structure Kendra had lovingly created for funeral services, a holy path with handrails for times when even our own hands tremble, a guide to walk with and cradle our families when their lives are shaken and torn. To help them as they strive to give their loved ones over to God. To nurture them in ways that perhaps they aren’t even able to be aware that they need.
A practical problem was mentioned. Our church bells are on a timer, and in several of our most recent funerals, (we’ve had too many lately, I’m so sad to say,) the bells chimed the hour. This is especially loud when the funeral is held in the Chapel, located right next to the bell tower, and it’s really a problem when the funeral starts at say, eleven o’clock. So the minister stands at the front in her robe or his robe, trying to speak or pray or welcome, and everyone hears the bells, but words may be lost in the ringing. And if a funeral happens at one pm, the time when our bells are scheduled to sing out a medley of hymns, it can be especially disruptive- even if they are playing Nearer My God to Thee.
“How loud was it?” we asked Kendra.
“Oh I could definitely hear it. It was distracting for me so I’m sure it was for other people. Isn’t there a way to turn them off?”
“Oh yes,” Kimberly answered. Thank goodness for Kimberly, who knows everything about the sanctuary and the bells and the chapel and everything else anyone might need to know. She explained that when she’s there she always makes sure that it’s done, but these bell ringing funerals had happened when she wasn’t at church. “We just have to make sure that someone is here to remember,” she said, “to inhibit the bells before the service starts.”
Inhibit the bells?
Inhibit the bells!
KIMBERLY! HOW I LOVE YOUR WORDS! Inhibit the bells! As if the bells are so overjoyed that they have to sing out, as if their exuberance is poured into their molds with the copper and the tin- this praiseful ding-donging- and all we can do is try our best to inhibit them, talk them down from their wild praise urges. I bit my lip and turned to look at Jim- I knew he would have noticed it too. I was right. His eyes sparkled with the joy of it. “Inhibit the bells,” we said to each other and laughed to ourselves.
I loved the idea of inhibiting bells so much that I proceeded to let the conversation go on without me and look up “inhibit the bells” on my phone. Sure enough, in an automatic bell system, that’s what everybody calls it.
I remembered Les Cloches Volantes, the flying church steeple bells who stand in for the Easter Bunny in France. Ask a child why the bells that usually din din don out the lives of those in villages all over France suddenly inhibit themselves, going silent on Good Friday, and they’ll tell you that they’ve flown off to Rome, to take to the Pope everyone’s sadness about Jesus dying on the cross. But Easter morning this self-induced inhibition is over, as the bells fly in and ring their heads off , scattering chocolate and treats in celebration!
To every thing there is a season.
Hold it in, bells. Wait, give space, for the sake of grieving people. We’ll help you. We’ll push the button.
We may be able to inhibit the bells, but the birds? The flowers? The mountains? The skies? The sun?
We can pull the curtains and let the night fall, but the praise goes on in the owls, in the crickets. Even when your world falls apart. Even when the one you love most in the world is gone. The earth holds you, and hopefully those who love you hold you and let your tears spill, knowing one day that you will hear creation calling you back to God’s heart, the holy home you came from and were created for. And as you move about in sadness, even your own heart beats out a praise song, perhaps drowned out by mourning, but one that you will hear again. You will.