A Domestic Monastery's Table : Attending the Bells of Hope

Was really moved by this last night, from here...

"This afternoon (April 19) 50 young people with disabilities had the chance to meet with Pope Benedict, who encouraged them to be a sign of hope and to continue to intercede for others with their prayers.

'God has blessed you with life, and with differing talents and gift', the Holy Father told the youngsters. 'Through these you are able to serve him and society in various ways. While some people's contributions seem great and others' more modest, the witness value of our efforts is always a sign of hope for everyone'” he said.

The Pope sympathized with the pain that handicapped children endure and called them to see life as God does.

'Sometimes it is challenging to find a reason for what appears only as a difficulty to be overcome or even pain to be endured. Yet our faith helps us to break open the horizon beyond our own selves in order to see life as God does. God's unconditional love, which bathes every human individual, points to a meaning and purpose for all human life. Through his Cross, Jesus in fact draws us into his saving love and in so doing shows us the way ahead - the way of hope which transfigures us all, so that we too, become bearers of that hope and charity for others.'

Pope Benedict also spoke of hope in a homily in DC,
here. Saying, hope "is very much a part of the American character" and also speaking of "the hope poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, the hope which supernaturally purifies and corrects our aspirations by focusing them on the Lord" . And deepest of all this rang out: "Those who have hope must live different lives!" WOW!

There's been this feeling lately, that hope is like a bell perhaps. Imagine if you might how a bell's sounding can naturally go to the heart... but things can go deeper still when its a bell of hope...deep enough to truly live different lives. It keeps reminding me of the monastic bell, how one is to stop whatever they are doing to attend when the bells ring for prayer. Maybe hope is just such a bell, waiting for us to finally attend. Its an encouraging image.

The tradition of bells in connection with living a more sacred and prayerful life is just amazing. It grew out of the scriptural practice of praying morning noon and night. And in pre-reformation Catholic communities at least, one's church bells were heared by both those in monasteries and in town. For those in monasteries these bells called them to the "Divine Office" ( also called Canonical hours or Liturgy of hours), and for the lay it called them to the shorter prayers of the "Angelus" (though some lay prayed the longer Divine Office too, or parts of it, hence the popularity of the lovely Book of Hours). However one prayed at the bell's tolling, it was quite a wonderful way to help "pray without ceasing". And it still is, even though this practice is sadly less common today.

Its more too though...the bell helps us learn that things must be "in God's time". In monastic life especially one is expected to literally stop whatever they are doing when the bells for prayer ring. And of course, if we open to it, the domestic can be the monastic. Ron Rolheiser for example speaks of the hermit Carlo Carretto, who when visting his mother in Italy realized that she was actually living a contemplative's life as well in her ordinary domestic life. From
his article:

"(He) was careful to draw the right lesson from this. What this taught was not that there was anything wrong with what he had been doing in living as a hermit. The lesson was rather that there was something wonderfully right about what his mother had been doing ...He had been in a monastery, but so had she.

What is a monastery? A monastery is not so much a place set apart for monks and nuns as it is a place set apart (period). It is also a place to learn the value of powerlessness and a place to learn that time is not ours, but God's.

Our home and our duties can, just like a monastery, teach us those things. John of the Cross once described the inner essence of monasticism in these words: "But they, O my God and my life, will see and experience your mild touch, who withdraw from the world and become mild, bringing the mild into harmony with the mild, thus enabling themselves to experience and enjoy you." What John suggests here is that two elements make for a monastery: withdrawal from the world and bringing oneself into harmony with the mild.

Although he was speaking about the vocation of monastic monks and nuns, who physically withdraw from the world, the principle is equally valid for those of us who cannot go off to monasteries and become monks and nuns. Certain vocations offer the same kind of opportunity for contemplation. They too provide a desert for reflection.

For example, the mother who stays home with small children experiences a very real withdrawal from the world. Her existence is definitely monastic. Her tasks and preoccupations remove her from the centres of power and social importance. And she feels it. Moreover her sustained contact with young children (the mildest of the mild) gives her a privileged opportunity to be in harmony with the mild, that is, to attune herself to the powerlessness rather than to the powerful.

Moreover, the demands of young children also provide her with what St. Bernard, one of the great architects of monasticism, called the "monastic bell". All monasteries have a bell. Bernard, in writing his rules for monasticism, told his monks that whenever the monastic bell rang, they were to drop whatever they were doing and go immediately to the particular activity (prayer, meals, work, study, sleep) to which the bell was summoning them. He was adamant that they respond immediately, stating that if they were writing a letter they were to stop in mid-sentence when the bell rang. The idea in his mind was that when the bell called, it called you to the next task and you were to respond immediately, not because you want to, but because it's time for that task and time isn't your time, it's God's time. For him, the monastic bell was intended as a discipline to stretch the heart by always taking you beyond your own agenda to God's agenda...

The principles of monasticism are time-tested, saint-sanctioned, and altogether-trustworthy. But there are different kinds of monasteries, different ways of putting ourselves into harmony with the mild, and different kinds of monastic bells. Response to duty can monastic prayer, a needy hand can be a monastic bell, and working without status and power can constitute a withdrawal into a monastery where God can meet us. The domestic can be the monastic."

"The domestic can be the monastic". It truly can. This wonderful reflection above gave the example of a mother with young children, but of course this is only one example of who can live a domestic life in a monastic way. I personally believe most any housewife (single, married, widowed, with or without being blessed with children) can find quite a profound opening to monastic living at home if this is sought, not only through a more social path but also through the traditonal path of cherishing solitude even when living with others. It all depends on one's tempurment really, whether it is a more social or a more introverted path (or something in between the two) that helps create a way of living monastically.

I just love this qoute from
Catherine Doherty in this "domestic monastic" vein:

"Consider the solitude of a housewife, alone in her kitchen, sitting down for a cup of coffee before beginning the work of the day. Think of the solitudes afforded by such humble tasks as housecleaning, ironing, sewing...

These "little solitudes" are often right behind a door which we can open, or in a little corner where we can stop to look at a tree that somehow survived the snow and dust of a city street. Our hearts, minds, and souls must be attuned, desirous, aware of these moments of solitude that God gives us. --from Poustinia by Catherine Doherty

There is something deeply healing about a "bell" sort of life, and it truly can make the domestic the monastic. More and more, i'm just finding this such a core and precious thing...

(this was later continued

(This beautiful bell image is from
here, and the lovely traditional Angelus painting is from here)

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