The pelican papers

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Singing bowl and alleluia bell

Posted by Ron George on March 25, 2008

Singing bowl and alleluia bell

Singing bowl and alleluia bell

I couldn’t resist. I (ahem) borrowed a tiny brass bell from church Sunday morning, one from a basket in the narthex I used in both services to make a joyful noise every time we sang or said “Alleluia!” I’m going to use it all this week in prayer time at home.

I’ve used a meditation bell for years in daily prayer. Mary gave it to me as a birthday present more than a decade ago when we lived apart while she worked on her doctorate at College Station. It fell right into place next to the chair where I said Morning Prayer and wrote in my journal. I hadn’t a clue how it was to be used, but I knew the first time I struck it with its wooden mallet that it would become part of my spiritual life. I’ve since learned that such things are called “singing bowls.” It’s as though this instrument found its way to me, through a gift of love, and led me to my current practice of chanting much of Morning Prayer.

The singing bowl is a kind of centering prayer. My soul follows it into silence not unlike the silence after songs in sacred space on Sunday. It’s also a joyous canticle lifting my soul in thanksgiving for the word of God through scripture and in meditation. The singing bowl finally signals the time of leave-taking, a moment’s grief at the end of the morning office, when my soul turns toward another day away from that centering place, longing to return and in hope of not losing its prayerful habit amid the chores of making a living.

The alleluia bell borrowed from church is quite different. It’s got a clapper, for one thing, and is quite a noisy little thing despite being so small. I wasn’t sure how I’d use it when I lifted it on impulse after Sunday’s late service. I put it next to the singing bowl in my prayer place at home. I hoped it would find its way into the morning office.

A Tibetan monk once told me that the feminine bell he rang in his left hand while holding a masculine dorje in his right hand represented a kind of spiritual balance, not of opposites but of mutually interdependent, benevolent principles. I watched a group of chanting monks use this meditative practice in worship, but I didn’t take to it myself. I thought of it as a charming idea but nothing more.

Then, just yesterday, this little alleluia bell leaped into my hand right after I struck the singing bowl for the Venite. “Come let us sing to the Lord …” The little bell began to ring and ring and ring, not just for alleluias but throughout the psalm. It made me smile then almost laugh out loud so that I could barely chant. The little bell stopped clapping at the end of the psalm, but wouldn’t be denied during the other two canticles. Then she fell silent — until this morning.

It takes getting over a little self-consciousness to let a strange little bell jump into your prayer life, but it seemed so much like play that — well, now, there’s an eye-opener. Imagine. A playful Anglican about his Daily Office. Hold that thought!

I didn’t get much sense of the little bell’s being feminine, but I did feel its heart beating — that clapper, thumping for all its worth against a thin canopy of brass as though from within a human breast, then falling into sacred silence that you wish could last forever. (It occurs to me, now, that someday there will be such a silence for each of us that will last forever.)

The little bell has let me know it must return to All Saints on low Sunday, and that parting will be grievous. I wonder, though, if I might meet another little alleluia bell again next Easter Day. I hope so, and we too shall be friends for Easter Week, hearts resonant with festal shouts to the Risen Lord.

Meanwhile, dear old singing bowl will continue marking each step through the morning office, centering the soul, binding the silences, summoning the Spirit and sustaining hope, day by day, through another blessed year of life in Christ.


One Response to “Singing bowl and alleluia bell”

  1. Catherine said

    Lovely, lovely, lovely. Thanks so much for these wonderful words and images, Ron. Our choir hid pre-school percussion instruments under their robes at the Easter Vigil this year and let loose with a joyful racket once the lights came on in the sanctuary. It was a glorious sound of another sort!

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