I don’t know what it was like where you lived when you were little, but in Corozal, the small town where I grew up in Belize, we had church bells ringing all the time.
Being a predominantly Catholic country, the happy Christmas-bells, and New Year’s Day bells rang loud and strong. The Good Friday bells also rang, but sad. Perhaps you are familiar with such traditions? I’d love to hear what it was like in your corner of the world. Please tell me in the comments.
But in Belize, there was more.
There were bells that announced the death of someone in town or sometimes, for that someone from the town who passed away in a foreign land. These were sad bells; baritone and grief-sounding and they were rung slow, made to drag on and on. Everyone recognized those bells. When we heard them, we stopped whatever it was we were doing, solemnly crossed ourselves and wondered for whom the bells tolled.
Most of the time it was all people talked about on any such a day and those bells were followed by the death of all sound as radios and televisions got turned off. If not turned off completely, they were turned down so low that it was insulting to pretty much every teenager I knew. Still, we showed respect to our dearly departed that way.
Then there were the soprano sounding bells announcing Christenings. Those rang high and tapered off to a hush in around a minute. We liked those bells and nodded at each other when we heard them. In my home, my mother instructed us to whisper a soft “Come to Jesus,” to welcome the newly baptized child to Jesus’ team.
Then there were the glorious jingle-jingle echoing bells of weddings which went on for much too long; perhaps a whole four minutes without pausing. They were the hardest to ignore. Those bells made everyone smile, inhale deeply and hug each other.
Like solemnly making the sign of the cross for the death bells, and the whispering for the baptism bells, the hugging symbolized a hug sent in the direction of the newlyweds.
Most of the time we knew the people entering into matrimony or at least the Christian names they went under, as these announcements were posted on the bulletin board at church. We all loved the sound of those bells.
And then, of course, there was the faithful church-bell ringing that announced 6:00 a.m, 12:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. summoning the faithful to recite one or a few of the many memorized prayers.
In any case, these bells gave us reason to pause and connect with the spirits of those for whom the bells were rung and also to find solace in reciting a prayer. We were told we were nourishing our souls.
I have spent all of my years since my twentieth birthday away from the town that raised me and the many times I visited my mother there I didn’t give much notice to the sound of the bell tower. In fact, I don’t remember when I abandoned the idea of expecting them. I’d go as far as admitting that I’d forgotten about the bells.
Here in Japan where I’ve lived for almost three decades now, we never hear church bells ringing. It’s one less thing to expect since the people in Japan do not speak loud about anything. There is, however, the 108 hammering sounds of temple bells that are a familiar sound to every New Year’s Eve.
The bell that is rung then is referred to as Joya no Kane; with Joya literally translating to New Year’s Eve night. Kane means bell. You can read all about the Joya no Kane in Wikipedia. I know it the way I know it but I googled it in order to give you accurate information. Here it is, in my own words.
The Joya bell is rung a total of 107 times on New Year’s Eve, usually starting at 11:00 p.m., and then one more time just as the clock strikes midnight. This brings it to a total of 108 times.
It is believed that 108 is the number of worldly desires a person experiences throughout the course of one’s entire life. In order to cleanse the population of these 108 worldly desires that accumulate during the year, the bells are rung 107 times. And the last one, the 108th strike, carries with it the meaning of not worrying about last year’s problems.
I heart that.
I like the sound of the new year’s bell reverberating through the winter night sky while I, usually in the company of my family, brace myself to usher in the new year and I love knowing that come the New Year, I start with a clean slate. These bells give me pause and encouragement.
The symbolism of the bells is different but still, I’m reminded of those childhood bells that rang to remind us that our connection with one another goes beyond what our eyes can see. It called us to stop for moments at a time and begged us to be present. I think that is beautiful.
I had a dream about those bells in Corozal recently, but in my dream, the bells were deafening, annoying. I do not know what those bells could mean and today I choose not to ponder on that; instead, I have put my energy into writing and sharing this post.
Did you hear any bells growing up? What did they signify?
And now, is there anything that calls your attention to be present? What is it? I’d love to hear about it. Please consider leaving me a comment, please. Thanks.
I Wish You Miracles.
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