Today was one of those days where I actually got the time to sit and eat my lunch while not working, AND it was sunny and hot – double bonus. I went and sat on a bench in the small public garden outside the local priory church (one of the 2 only nice spots in the town where I work, but the other one has been relegated to second favourite since I got pooped on by the ridiculous numbers of pigeons there – put me right off my Subway).
As I was basking in the sun and taking care not to lose olives, sweetcorn and lettuce out of the bottom of my Subway with each bite, the church bells started ringing in the way they do after a wedding ceremony. Everyone on the other benches looked up with some sudden interest too. After about 5 minutes of the bells pealing, I started to think what a happy, celebratory sound it was. But more than that, what really struck me was that this sound was ringing out across the whole of the town. You don’t get bells at weddings very often anymore but the tradition must have started as a way of letting everyone in the town know, regardless of whether they were friends or family, that a couple had got hitched and were starting a new life together. It’s as if everyone should be involved and that this is good news for the whole community. This couple finding love adds some more love to the universe. This couple building a solid base together is putting another piece into the foundation of the community. At the risk of being over-spiritual, this couple is in some way participating in the point of everything!
The bible talks lots about Jesus being our ‘bridegroom’, about us ultimately being joined with him, about God adopting us into his family so his family-spirit becomes our family-spirit, and there being a wedding celebration. More than this, it promises that one day God’s space (‘heaven’) will be fully united with our space (‘earth’) and that that will be when love and wholeness and joy permeate and illuminate and flow through everything – a real marriage. For now we just sometimes get glimpses of the overlap between the 2 worlds and true love in marriages is part of that. The bells express the excitement so well, as if they can’t contain it!
The bells today also reminded me of Switzerland, the country my mum is from and I love so much. The church bells ring there each hour! The bells in my grandparents’ village of Gelterkinden toll for every funeral too as a sign of respect for the deceased. Again, the clanging resounds across the whole town, as if every person is involved even if they didn’t know the person who has died, as if everyone should know about what has happened, should pause and grieve for a moment because the loss is a loss to all. The bells speak of community, how we’re each connected to the other and affected by what befalls him or her. I feel a rendition of the famous ‘no man is an island’ poem by John Donne coming on!
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
The bells also brought to mind a plaque I read recently in the pigeon-pooping area of the town. It was explaining the history of the park there and noted that in Victorian times the local factories closed down once or twice a year for a day of games and fun in the park for the entire work-force. Food and entertainment was provided for free by the factory owners. Now, I’m definitely not imaging those factories were the nicest and most caring places to work, but the idea of closing them all down and ceasing production for a day of random fun does conjure a real sense of community, even at the financial cost of a couple of days’ work lost. I could just picture it going ahead on the grass before me. Man, I really hope I hear those bells again soon.