My office window looks out on a busy city street.
That means that, at any given time of day, I hear some combination of the following: construction work, sirens, people talking to each other, cars, barking dogs, and the beeping of large trucks backing up.
I also hear church bells.
There is a small Catholic church one street over from where I work; it runs a food pantry and a soup kitchen, and at lunch the line snakes around the corner and down the street. I assume, because it’s so close, that’s the church that the bells are coming from. But the source hardly matters. What matters is the sound, and how it enters into my day.
Although they always ring at noon, the bells always sound unexpected to me. I’m in the middle of a task or a project, getting off a phone call, organizing something – and then there they are. It’s such a strange and marvelous thing to hear church bells in the middle of all the other noisy chaos. The chimes are distinct and stand out from all the other noise; they remind me of who God is, and who I am.
I love how alien they are to the landscape where I work. Because that strange note of beauty amidst the grunt and grind of urban life, the people going back and forth, all the unremarkable ordinariness, resembles the way God’s grace and God’s love enter our lives: unexpected, clarion, altogether lovely.
This occurred to me today: if God’s love or His presence ever seems ordinary to me, that’s my failing. If at any point I ever stop being surprised or startled by the nature of it, that’s a clue that I need to immerse myself in it again until I’m properly shocked once more. The intensity of who God is, and the amazing way in which He loves – something that is striking me more and more as I work on a read-through of the Old Testament – is something that we should never be able to calmly sit with.
God’s love should cut through all the everyday much just like the church bells do.
Advent is coming. It’s a time of preparation leading up to the miraculous. May I encourage you to make use of it this year? For all the prep we often do for the Christmas holiday – cantatas and present-wrapping and baking – we do precious little spiritually beyond, perhaps, a little Advent devotional or an extra prayer or two. But what might it look like to really use the time, to invite church-bell love into your life and contemplate what it really means as we approach the Incarnation?
Here’s my advice: create your own church bells. Find a random-but-frequent thing that jars you out of the ordinary or the everyday. Maybe it’s a sound or a smell or a taste that transports you and kicks you out of your rut. Maybe it’s when your kid gives you a hug or you get a text from a friend. Maybe it’s when you hear that one song in the car. Whatever your “church bell” is, whenever it occurs, take five minutes – only five! ten if you want – and dwell in God’s love. Just take a few minutes and really be amazed by both the vastness of it (that is willing and able to redeem the world for all its sin) and the incomparable intimacy of it (that cares about and knows you, personally). Reflect on that. Marvel on it. Acknowledge it. And let it inform your day.
We shouldn’t deprive ourselves of the sheer wonder of being in a relationship with God. The lovely noonday church bells reminded me of that.