There are the big events that rip apart communities, and then there are the small things that erode them. They seem to have stopped ringing the Angelus here in my home town.
If you’re not familiar with this very old devotion, it includes Scripture and prayers in celebration of the Incarnation, and it’s announced by the ringing of church bells at 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. Once upon a time, field workers in every corner of a parish would drop to their knees at the same time when they heard the bells — a community separated only by space. I suppose it is falling out of fashion, although Raidió Teilifís Éireann, Ireland’s national TV network, broadcasts it every day and even introduced an updated version four years ago.
I am not overly attached to the measurement of time. I’ve never owned a decent watch, in part because I’m alarmed at how attached some folks become to checking them. But marking sacred time is another matter altogether. Yes, the bells have awakened me, especially since three churches within two blocks of my house used to ring them, each a few seconds apart, each with vastly different tones.
It wasn’t exactly sweet music drifting over the countryside, but there are worse ways to begin the day than with prayer, and often enough, I rolled over and fell back asleep. If I happened to be awake already, they were a nice break in whatever task I was managing.
I think it was the anti-noise brigade that did in the early-morning Angelus bells. At least one church still rings them at noon, but the bells are in a losing competition with the fire department, which tests a different alarm box every day at the same hour.
If you don’t hear bells, what are your own triggers for prayer — eating? Lighting candles? When we were putting together Vacation Church School last year, Jamie, our chief planner, said, “We have to feed the kids — partly because their parents don’t do that all the time, but mostly so they can learn to pray before they eat.” My son knows that candles mean prayer — even when he was four years old, he knew it. We were at Cracker Barrel once, and when the server came by to light our table lamp, he started singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
For those of us of a liturgical bent, the Easter season, seven weeks long, is an appropriate time to think on these things. We all have our own prayer rhythms, and while they are wonderfully diverse, it makes sense to consider them together. What are your school’s prayer rhythms? What holds your community of prayer together? And how do you prevent your traditions from withering away?
One of a seminary board’s great opportunities is to help pass along the patterns of faith to a new generation of leaders, watching as they are refreshed and revitalized along the way. Students, faculty, chaplain, president, and board — together, they can learn and grow and pray, in the power of the Holy Spirit.