Ringing the bell at the monastery was one of my jobs as cellarer. As the cook of the monastery’s house in the country, it was my job to ring the bell for the mid-day and evening offices which which preceded the meals -meals I had been cooking. The ancient name of monastic cellarer came from the reality that the food of the monastery for thousands of years, had been kept in the basement or “cellar” in order to be kept cool. Of all the things I did at the monastery I loved the cooking and serving of meals, and saw them linked to the celebration of the Eucharist.
Though my monk’s habit was designed to be a symbol of both vows and of relational barrier (other), it was also a warm garment in the fall and the front panel (a scapular) was a handy duster when I noticed the dust in the afternoon sun on a desk.
The bells, the many offices, the rules and the habit were all romantic symbols (some helpful and some not) of an ancient church. I have compassion on myself when I notice how easily I swoon at ancient, romantic things. We all do – or most of us. And though I have found in my own life that most of the experiences I have had in the church as a child, as a priest, as a monk and as a diocesan canon were rooted in God, they were assaulted by evils as well. Even with all the evil in the church 9be it omission or commission),there is still some good left and it is mostly with the laity. The church is morphing and changing and the stress of those changes is causing leaders to get jittery. We act out when we are nervous or insecure and these are as insecure times as they can possibly be.
As I was leaving New Hampshire after the new election, I asked a Bishop I respected, how many good, kind, intelligent and effective Bishops exist in our House of Bishops today among the more than 300. A flash of grief passed over his face like a shadow. He thought – and it seemed he was thinking not about the answer but about whether he would state it. He looked up at my face with tired eyes and opened both hands.
Ten. There might be ten. My heart sank but I was grateful to be told the truth. It was as I had suspected. Then his list of names gave me the permission I needed to come to Colorado.
The experience has remained in my heart as I grieve the church I had romanticized. But the experience also gave me a new kind of determination which brought me to the Cathedral rather than back into secular work. I believe the church is needed and has much to offer. I also believe that the ancient things we do have the kind of integrity which will draw some back to the church if the ancient rituals are paired with modern service to the poor.
The habit hangs in some closet at the monastery – a rather full closet. But the bell still rings. It rings in our churches as the host is elevated and it rings in our hearts when we are kind, generous , thoughtful, gentle, authentic, centered, balanced and well as church members. And it rings in our cosmos when Jesus kisses us on the forehead as we sleep and whispers how much we are loved.