Marie Borroff has a lovely poem “In the Range of Bells” about walking down the hill in New Haven and listening to the bells ring. I am here at a cathedral also in the range of bells, but I do not find it a thoughtful exercise. Instead, it just seems like (dare I say it) noise. The ringing yesterday and again tonight seems random and unpredictable. It is not music to me nor is it a sound that counts the hours, coming, as it does, at odd moments. It is as though some unseen hand needs to practice a six- or seven-note scale – over and over and over. And maybe that is in fact the case. I prefer the sound of acorns falling from the tree outside, birds going to sleep, and even a siren in the distance that calls me to prayer for someone in distress. The disembodied dinging of these bells is not peaceful, not prayerful.
There is much about this place that is lovely and calls to the contemplative in me, but there is also much that seems of pomp and privilege, and I do not connect with it. I wonder if the appreciation of grandeur is, as they say, an acquired taste. I have been formed in a small country church, not a cathedral, where the music was an often out-of-tune piano and the voices of those I loved singing over my head. There were no sophisticated choirs, no carillons, no majestic organs. But all the music, here and there, is the praise of God. Even, I suppose, these interminable bells…..