Thursday, January 1, 2009


Bell from the old Abbey Gatehouse,

This seems a very Merton way to ring in a new year:

"Bells are meant to remind us that God alone is good, that we belong to Him, that we are not living for this world.

"They break in upon our cares in order to remind us that all things pass away and that our preoccupations are not important.

"They speak to us of our freedom, which responsibilities and transient cares make us forget.

"They are the voice of our alliance with the God of heaven.

"They tell us that we are His true temple. They call us to peace with Him within ourselves."

- Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, 67


  1. I had thought about using the Japanese custom of ringing a temple bell 108 times on New Year's Day for the theme of my post today. It seems Merton had thoughts on the subject of bells as well. Better him than me.
    BTW, it is 108 times to cast out the "deadly sins" of Buddhism. And we thought we were challenged with seven! ;)
    Happy New Year's, Beth!

  2. The number "108" is considered auspicious in many religions. Check out this page at

  3. That's pretty interesting about the number 108, Larry. I used to have a book, "The sacred science of numbers" that was very intriguing.

    Does this mean that there are 108 deadly sins in Buddhism, Barbara? My gosh.

    Anyway, I hope 2009 brings us all much hope and peace.

  4. Sorta. I cannot speak authoritatively about Buddhism, but the ringing has something to do with casting out evil behaviour. I recall sitting in my room at the Benedictine priory in Tokyo at New Year's listening to the bells ringing at a temple in the city. Tokyo is amazingly still during the days associated with New Year's festivities. It is said you can even see Fuji because the air is cleaner.

  5. I found a reference. There is an Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, I believe, with a huge temple bell from Japan where the public is allowed to ring in the New Year. Wish I could join in. Here is what a local Zen priest said:
    The bell will be struck exactly 108 times in keeping with the Buddhist belief that each reverberation symbolically represents the purging of the 108 bonno or mortal desires, such as greed, jealousy and infidelity, that bedevil humankind.,5649,0,0,1,0

  6. A novel by a Catholic author - J.K. Huysmanns a.k.a "King of the Decadents" has a must read chapter about a bell ringer in Paris and the craft, then dying art of bell ringing - the novel is "La Bas". Also brings to mind the creation of the bell in "Andrei Rublev" movie:

  7. Thanks Barbara, for those Japanese references. I like the idea of stillness and bells at New Year's a lot better than fireworks and hoopla! It sounds like a very good way to bring in the new year, purging oneself of all those sins.

    Marc, I never realized that bell-ringing could be considered a craft and art. I saw a movie once where a monk was walking very slowly down a crowded city street, ringing a bell. It was very "striking" - the difference between the silent monk, and the hustling people, and the bell seemed to be drawing attention to that difference.

    I once was captivated by a mime performing in Munich. He also had a bell, which he used periodically to sort of make some kind of "break" in the atmosphere.

  8. There was a scene in a Indian movie where a group was singing a prayer for intercession. It was a beautiful song and it ended with one tap of a small bell, as if it was an "amen." That single tone had so much unspoken meaning.

  9. Yes, Larry. Just that small tap is so beautiful. I imagine the moment of death might be like that. It is like an awakening sound for me.

    A few years ago we bought a bell-gong to attach to our telephone. So when the phone rings, instead of the usual ringing sound, we get a little tap on a metal bowl sound. Most people who come to our house are astounded when they hear it, and then we answer the phone. Sadly, we've grown used to it, and don't notice it much anymore as a "special" sound. It just means that the phone is ringing. But at least it's less jarring than the usual rings. I suppose you could download such sounds for a cellphone these days.


The Stuff of Contemplation (Joan Chittister)

Thomas Merton, Trappist, died December 10, 1968 Thomas Merton entered the Abbey of Gethsemane in Bardstown, Kentucky, at the age of twenty-s...