Daily life in a monastery is usually punctuated by the ringing of bells. Why are bells associated with churches and monasteries? Perhaps because their overtones are so strong--the high-pitched ringing sounds that decay slowly after the initial clang. In the seventeenth century Robert Fludd depicted angels as the overtones of human life. Joan of Arc loved bells, and said that she heard voices especially when bells were rung for Matins and Compline, the morning and evening hours of the church day.
Overtones, sometimes called partials by music theorists, are those elements in every experience that last long after the literal act--memories, shock, emotional residues, reactionary behavior. They are also the meanings and implications of deeds, their nuances and reverberation.
Monks are more interested in these partials of experience than in the literal facts. They are professionals in spiritual resonance. When the bell rings, they stop and listen.
This reflection by Thomas Moore came to mind last Saturday at the funeral of one of our sister's brothers. In addition to the 2-3 funerals of our own sisters each year we celebrate an additional 2-3 for members of sisters' families. Though we are quite familiar with our funeral rituals, they are always new and, we hope, memorable for the family.
I often think of the whole Mass of Christian Burial as our "gift" to the family. One of our most touching rituals is to ring our bells as the casket is taken from the chapel out the front door and into the hearse.
Our electronic carillon is set on the maximum six bell peal and continues ringing as the hearse and the procession of cars goes down the driveway and out onto East Lake Road.
If you'd like to hear it, here it is: Click on Six Bell Peal.