Call to Prayer

News from afar, news of the infinitely limitless God, news of man’s bottomless desire, and of its inexhaustible fulfilment.  The bells are a summons to those “men of desire” whose hearts are open to far-off things. – Romano Guardini, Sacred Signs

Bells call us to prayer, to dinner, to meetings at Bluestone Farm.

Disconcerting look at chapel bell in summer. It's covered in snow at the moment.

Disconcerting look at chapel bell in summer. It's covered in snow at the moment.

The heavy bell outside the chapel hangs close to the ground in a squat wooden stand, but resounds throughout the farm nevertheless, and we can hear it all the way across the street and up the hill at St. Aidans.  Inside St. Cuthberts, a shrill bell attached to the wall at the foot of the stairs in the hallway summons us to dinner or to meetings. Within the chapel, a soft deep-toned handbell tells off the number of chimes to mark the office: three sets of three for Lauds, three-times-three-times-three-plus-nine for the Angelus before Eucharist and Vespers, and a simple three for noonday and Compline.

Bells awaken me to the call within the call.  You’d think, having made a vow to a life of prayer ‘way back in 1977 that by now I’d got the hang of it.  “Pray continually,” said St. Paul.  And so, like the hesychasts taking that admonition to heart, literally, so that prayer moves in and out of the body with the breath, and indeed, deepens into the very heartbeat of the man or woman of prayer sleeping and waking, I, too, long for the deepest immersion in sacredness.

I’m comforted by the universality of the call to prayer: the haunting and beautiful Allah Hu Akbar (God is most great) from the minaret five times a day, Buddhist and Hindu Temple bells, rattles, drums, trumpets, “lyre and harp to waken the dawn,” to waken from sleep, to waken from a lazy consciousness.  The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn suggests that hearing any sudden sound, even the telephone, can be practiced as a call to consciousness of the ever-present moment.  The shofar (ram’s horn) calls men and women to prayer in multiple heart-breaking layers of meaning: Rachel’s lamentation, barren women awaiting the miracle child, the sound of Sarah’s grief, the sound of Isaac’s reprieve, the giving of Torah, the coming of the messiah, the end of the world- joy, sorrow,  memory, calls within and throughout and outside time. 

Preparing the website meditation prompts on the lections for this coming Sunday ( called my attention to the bells calling us to prayer.  Reflecting upon Jonah’s call to preach to Ninevah and Andrew and Peter’s call to follow Jesus linked me to the daily outward calls to come and pray in the context of community.  The bells keep ringing because we keep forgetting.

More from Sacred Signs by beloved Romano Guardini: The sound of bells stirs in us the feeling of distance.  When they clang out from a steeple rising above a wide plain and their sound is carried to every point of the compass, and on and on to the hazy blue horizon, our wishes follow them as long as they are audible, until it comes home to us that there is no satisfaction of desire in far distant hopes, or indeed in anything outside ourselves. … The bells remind us of the world’s immensity and man’s still more immeasurable desires, and that only in the infinite God we can find our peace. 

St. Aidans and Lady

St. Aidans and Lady

O Lord, this my soul is wider than the world, its longing from depths deeper than any valley, the pain of desire is more troubling than the faint lost bell notes.  Only thyself canst fill so vast an emptiness.






One Response to “Call to Prayer”

  1. Kathy Says:

    I just found your website and blog.
    I’m delighted.
    I was preparing prayer for worship tomorrow (I’m a minister in the RCA) and found you on

    Blessings. . .

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