Monday, December 28, 2015

Noisiness of Church Bells

The bells started ringing as we crossed the bridge. We could just see the church spires outlined by the rare Christmas full moon. Sound carried strongly on the heavy night air. The sounds we met were not the steady bong bong of a clocking marking time. They were the bong, bong, clang, clang, bong, clang, clang noisiness of church bells out of control in inviting everyone to come join together-- “Noel, Noel, Noel!”

The air filled with bells was eerily contrasted by streets that were empty and calm. Light shown through the cracks in shutters closed tight against the night.  A cat or two skittled across the road as we walked up the hill. We were early for the service. Families were still trying to bundle up the children and lace up shoes before heading out into the winter evening.

The bells ended as we approached Bourdeilles’ little church. Then everything was strangely quiet for a Christmas Eve. The only hint that we were indeed here on the right evening were three rows of elegantly placed votives twinkling on the steep stone staircase. Their flickering light was most inviting and beckoned us in, but being a bit early we took a stroll around the church. River fog was swirling up the hill and the bright moonlight glowed off the spires of the village castles. Soon jolly voices could be heard arriving from the dark corners, and the bodies of folks began to take form as they passed under the street lamps. It was time to go in before the little church filled up.

We chose our seats not too close, not too far back, and watched the parade. Here was an old friend, here was a family or two that we only see at this Christmas Eve service. We too are only in this sanctuary for this once a year celebration. There were hugs and kisses, a nod of hello, and a few introductions.

Here inside the light was bright and warm. The hand cut stone walls seemed impossibly perfect. The plaster on the stones is bright white and the joints make perfect horizontal lines. Candles glow and someone had come early to set up the portable heaters. My mind wandered to what it would have been like to walk here from a home miles away and sit through the service with no heat, no down coats, and electrical contraptions. I tried to make out the stories in the stained glass windows, but kept being drawn to the statues. Jesus in Mary’s arms, Jesus in the arms of St John the Baptist, several of Jesus on the cross. There is a lot of story telling and obscure symbolism going on in here.  We are a long way away from the sensibilities of the austere New England Protestant point of view. There was also a plaque with a sadly long list of names of young men that died in WWI. This is another foreign part of this church experience and it led to reflection on the families that are still here in the village and how many families died out with the loss of male heirs during that disastrous war.

Singing broke my daydreaming and the fatherly, almost Santa like, priest made his way down the aisle with the children he had gathered up, the baby Jesus in the arms of one of the youngest children. We followed along through a story that has been told in this church for over 400 years. A story with a rhythm to it that makes the service welcomingly familiar. The universal message that we have heard over and over again and will need to hear again and again to let our love light shine and to be sure to share that same sacred love light. 
The service concluded with a resounding song of joy and peace, birth and hope. Each family bundled up and off we headed into the dark corners of the village to continue our celebrations in the warmth of home, friends and family. Each heart was filled with the clanging of the bells that had called us together as those same bells sent us back out into the world.


Linda said...

Wonderful post and beautiful photos.

Unknown said...

What a wonderful post! I wish things here in NE Georgia had been the same. Alas . . . torrential rain dampened much of Christmas Eve.

Kathie Kerler said...

The emotion of the evening came through as clear as church bells. Thanks for sharing.