Thursday, June 26, 2008


Bells ring out everywhere on The Mountain – on the campus of the University of the South, at St. Mary’s, Sewanee when we’re summoned to early Morning Prayer and Eucharist—Angelus bells, carillon bells, bells to announce the time of day. Campanology is big business up here.

In the silence of early morning at St. Mary’s, the bell brings us fully awake. Someone still performs the duty of pulling the rope attached to the clapper of a fine pealing bell to call us to worship. At The Church of the Epiphany in New Iberia, we have an electronic system for bell ringing, but the old Celtic custom of ringing the bell by hand (during Medieval Times) persists at St. Mary’s.

We live on the campus of the University of the South and sometimes, in the evenings, we’re treated to carillon concerts. I’ve often wanted to climb to the carillon tower to watch the carillonneur strike the keyboard with his fists while using his feet to activate a pedal keyboard. What a strenuous way to make music!

The most impressive carillon music I’ve heard was played in Bok Tower near Lake Wales, Florida. The 205 ft. tower made of pink marble and coquina stone is a magnificent architectural edifice that stands on one of the highest points in Florida in the center of a garden of ferns, palms, camellias, jasmine, and other lush plants. I’ve visited Bok Tower three times, and it could easily fit into that realm of Sacred Spaces which I mentioned in earlier blogs. I like the story about Edward Bok (who had the tower built) receiving the inspiration to build the tower to house the carillon because of his grandmother’s words: “Make the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it.”

When I traveled to Oaxaca, Mexico a few years ago, I loved the sound of church bells ringing every day. I thought about D. H. Lawrence’s description “the magnificence of a big and lonely church…and where there is a church there will be a zocalo…” Three of us stayed in a small hotel that faced the zocalo, perhaps a block away from a church where bells pealed each morning. When I heard the bells, I’d sit, motionless for awhile until the last ring resonated through the window that opened out onto the sleepy square. Sometimes, I’d awaken to the sound of bells and would write snippets, many of which are contained in AFTERNOONS IN OAXACA, available at Border Press. Here is a snippet inspired by the sound of morning bells:


The Nahua know about faces and heart,
physical and non-physical ones;

we practice ixtli in yollotl,
face and heart making,

carrying our true selves, with purpose,
creating them here

where mountains lie in shadow,
where we keep trying to sleep

and awaken to the bell of a new language.

On the bureau, a rose,
dark as blood, droops,

a crimson sigh
against the white light,

Annunciation… morning on earth.

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