Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Bells of Munich: My Case for a Weekly Spiritual Experience

I took this video with my little digital camera while I was in Munich last week. It's the Frauenkirche, and it's the Sunday bells. This clip is only 15 seconds or so, but these bells--and the bells of all the nearby churches--rang out for at least 15 minutes, calling the faithful to service.

It was so overwhelmingly beautiful. Early morning, cool air, bright, silvery sun, and the loud, clear tones of bells swirling together to create the most stunning audio landscape I've ever heard. It felt like the sound had color, the harmonies were so thick and insistent.

Walking out of our hotel into this scene, I was overcome with emotion. I started to cry, and I couldn't help myself. The bells inundated me, passed through me, striking a deep, largely inaccessible hollow of stillness, and caused it to vibrate.

I was being rung by the bells.

And this ringing within me shook loose profound feelings and brought them up into my awareness: joy, awe, gratitude, wistfulness, a powerful sensation of being alive. For those few minutes, the "I" part of me dissolved, and "i" was there, rooted, connected, expansive. A white, purifying Love--the love that is bliss, that is god--was called up, and it, in the most welcome way, demolished me.

When I finally came back to my senses and was able to speak, I mentioned to my husband how wonderful it would be if we had anything like this at all. (And by "we," I meant back home, in America, in most places; in other words, if humans could be called out of their narrow trances once in a while and reminded of the eternal and ineffable that is invisible but pervasive.)

This is what is supposed to happen in churches, I know. And for the first time in a long time, I was tempted to go to mass at the Frauenkirche. Unfortunately, I stopped myself with all kinds of silly reasons--I wasn't dressed right, I wouldn't know where to sit--all of the stupid human reasons that don't matter in the presence of pure love and god. (If only humans in church could be persuaded to ignore such things!)

But I am more convinced than ever after this experience that human beings, whatever their beliefs, need regular encounters with what is holy. Because you don't have to believe in "God" or Jesus or Krishna or any anthropomorphic deity to recognize the holiness that exists in life. Indeed, the people unable to see or acknowledge that our lives retain sacred mysteries and that there is holy beauty and holy love are the ones who are most profoundly sick, whatever their blood pressure reading or therapist says.

In America, we don't have choirs of bells calling out to us. We will have to find some other way. I go to yoga and receive some measure of this experience each week. If I lived near an ocean, I might go there. But I urge you to find a way to get this experience, in whatever way you can, at least once a week.

Be rung, be rung, be rung!

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