Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Sound of the Bells

From The Song of the Bird
Anthony de Mello, SJ

The temple was built on an island and it had a thousand bells. Bells big and small, fashioned by the finest craftsmen in the world. When the wind blew or a storm raged, all the bells would peal out in a symphony that would send the heart of the hearer into raptures. But over the centuries the island sank into the ocean and, with it, the temple bells. An ancient legend said that the bells still rang out ceaselessly, and could be heard by anyone who would listen. 

Inspired by the legend a young man traveled thousands of miles, determined to hear those bells. He sat for days on the shore facing the vanished island and listened with all his might. But all he heard was the sound of the sea. He made every effort to block it out but to no avail; the sound of the sea seemed to flood the world.
He kept at his task for weeks. Each time he got disheartened he would listen to the village pundits as they spoke with unction of the mysterious legend. Then his heart would be inflamed only to become discouraged when weeks of further efforts yielded no results.

Finally he decided to give up the attempt. Perhaps he was not destined to listen to the bells. Perhaps the legend was not true. It was his final day, and he went to the shore to say goodbye to the sea and the sky and the wind and the coconut trees. He lay on the sand, and for the first time, listened to the sound of the sea.

Soon he was so lost in the sound that he was barely conscious of himself, so deep was the silence the sound produced. In the depth of that silence, he heard it I The tinkle of a tiny bell followed by another, and another and another... till every one of the thousand temple bells was pealing out in harmony, and his heart was rapt in joyous ecstasy.


I woke up this morning thinking of this parable. My copy of The Song of the Bird is much worn and dogeared. It was recommended to me by a priest at a retreat during a particularly difficult time of my life. And I was manically trying to make my life work, and at the same time find some spiritual connection that would work for me.

I always believe I can force march myself out of any situation I am in. Maybe I got that from my father when he made us all angry enough to keep putting one foot in front of another to get us all back to the car when a fishing trip turned ugly due to the weather. It worked that time but and it has worked in a lot of situations in my life. Enough so I think it is the only way to get through a difficult situation.  

I will hear the bells if only I just keep on keeping on. But that is not always true. Sometimes you have to totally let go of control. You have to give up and go with the flow. It isn't easy for me and so maybe that is my life lesson, because I seem to keep being put into situations where fighting against how things are is not going to work. All my negotiation skills could not keep me from being sued. All the voodoo dolls and ceremonies and yes, even prayers, could not get the judge to make a decision in my favor one iota faster, all my due diligence in picking a good tenant does not seem to work, even all my marketing efforts cannot fight the current economic situation nor does screaming at the neighbor make him want to keep his dog up.

Wanting it does not make the weather warmer or end the drought or take the pain from my friends. 

This is an age where everyone talks about praying for something they want. They credit prayer with saving their lives without seeing that the same god they pray to let others die. I ran into a definition about the difference between prayer and meditation I really liked - Prayer was asking and meditation was listening.

There are things I can do and times when I need to let go. 

Do you wish to hear the temple bells? Listen to the sound of the sea. 

1 comment:

  1. At a funeral yesterday, I was listening to the homily and I was reminded yet again, that you cannot get away from the fact (paraphrase) that part of life, is that we die. Had there not been original sin, we would live for ever. Had it not been for original sin, we wouldn't live the life we do with its ups and downs because in my belief, life was supposed to be perfect. With original sin, came weeping, wailing, unhappiness, hardship and death. By all accounts man chose that path not God.

    It's only when we let go that life takes a turn in a different direction - not necessarily in the way we had planned, but in the huge scheme of things, probably far better than we could have foreseen. Whilst we try to control everything forgetting where the power does come from, we will find ourselves tangled in knots which seem so tight that they can never be undone.

    Look what happened to the boy when he listened to the sea!


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