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When We Listen to the Bell

Today’s post is by Bryan Berghoef

My first introduction to a meditation bell or singing bowl was at my first Shalem staff meeting over four years ago. I clearly remember hearing it ring out—the warm vibrations had an immediate calming influence. It seemed the obvious and natural way to lead us into silence, even though it was my first time hearing it. The bell perfectly set the stage for an intentional time of quiet prayer together.

More recently I purchased a small (and much less expensive) meditation bell that I keep at my desk. I find myself using it when I get distracted, or worked up, or worried about something—or when things just feel “off.” When I ring the bell, it invariably calms me and reminds me of God’s loving presence in that moment. It is almost like a spiritual sigh of relief. “Oh yeah, God loves me. I am alive. And I want to be present in that aliveness and that love in this moment.” It doesn’t change any outside factors in my life. Bills still have to be paid. Work has to be done. Uncertainty remains. Yet it changes me.

It reminds me that whatever I am weighed down with in any given moment, God is with me. That whatever “important things” I have to do—perhaps none are more important than simply seeking to be present in this current moment.

We have begun using the bell in the congregation where I am the pastor—I ring it three times and invite worshipers to allow the bell to ring them into the present moment, and to remember the deep peace of God. For me, as a pastor and worship leader, it reminds me that all that we do in that setting is designed to lead us into the divine presence, and to experience God’s love. Amazingly, it is easy to forget that even in the midst of the songs, liturgy, sermon and so forth. Yet that simple tone calls out to us as an invitation from beyond: “Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know. Be still.”

Thich Nhat Hanh notes that using a mindfulness bell can help us stop our internal chattering. In his monastic setting, he remarks, “When we listen to the bell, we stop everything. We stop walking, we stop moving, we stop talking; we not only quiet our mouths, but we also quiet our minds, and simply come back to our breathing and our body. We take that moment to really rest and check in with how our body is doing, letting go of any tension.” I can relate to experiencing this as I use my bell. Does this mean you need to go purchase a mindfulness bell? Maybe. But maybe not. Hanh notes that almost anything can be a mindfulness bell, if we approach it with the right intention: the song of a bird, the sound of a creek, even the ringing of a telephone or the blare of a car horn. Any of these, approached with the right intention, can remind us to “stop what we’re doing or saying and just listen to the bell and breathe in and out.”

This little bell doesn’t solve any of the dilemmas in my life or in the broader world, it doesn’t mean there isn’t real and difficult work to be done, it doesn’t even keep my children from arguing with each other (well, maybe we can work on that), but it does help me be the kind of person that I long to be—kind, loving, patient—and someone with a growing awareness of God’s loving presence in each moment.

2 responses to “When We Listen to the Bell”

  1. Thank you, Bryan–I really like this: simple, personal, concrete, insightful, realistic.

    Peace and joy,

    Tilden

  2. A lovely reflection, Bryan. Thank you. I have a “Mindfulness Bell” app on my phone that rings at random times throughout the day. It brings me to presence in whatever I’m doing. It’s been a gift to me and has sounded at some of the most needed times. I also find that the sound of church bells (I heard many on my recent trip to Ireland!) has the same effect on me – IF I pay attention. Sometimes it’s just a reminder to breathe…

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