I keep being drawn to bell towers these days. Not real ones, but images of them. I didn’t even realize they were bell towers. I just knew they were four-sided tall towers, with window-like openings at the top.
What did I think they were? I didn’t. I just thought they were pretty. Now that I know what they are, I have to meditate upon it, because apparently it has a meaning and a message for me.
Anything can be a useful thing to meditate on. Anything can give you insight and teach you. But I find it especially significant to focus on things that repeat, because I see them as a sign from God to pay attention. God is saying “Here is something you need to notice.”
One of the images was at a friend’s house. Her husband had taken a picture of a bell tower at a church in downtown Nashville. It is just the bell tower, the sky, and birds. Something about it reminds me of the Episcopal retreat center on Monteagle Mountain. That place is old and musty and quaint and a little falling down. It has a Spanish mission style architecture, with red-tile roofing and white stucco exteriors.
This bell tower is like that, but I think there is more to it. There is something that hints at the idea of the Holy Spirit, with the birds flying nearby. There is something about the angle of the picture that makes me think the eye was suddenly jerked upwards, noticing this structure for the first time.
I’d admired this picture several times when I went over to visit, and then it was missing. They’d taken it to an art show to try to sell it. I felt the loss of it more than I realized. I didn’t know that I liked it that much until it wasn’t there. I asked my friend to have her husband make me a copy of it so I could have it at my house.
Then there is another picture. There is an etching that I’ve admired for at least eight years. It was tucked away under the stairs in an art gallery in Banner Elk, North Carolina. Every year, for years, I’d gone by this gallery and noticed that it was still there. I hoped that they would put it on sale. It was $100. I couldn’t really justify $100 for an etching. They can make more – it isn’t an original, a one-of-a-kind. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if I didn’t have it, I would feel the same loss, the same emptiness that I felt when my friend took that photograph away.
I remembered that I’d paid more than $100 for that photograph. That too can be reproduced. That too isn’t a one of a kind. But, hey, artists have to eat and pay bills, and I sure wish that people would pay me full price for what I make. So it was time to pony up and buy it.
It wasn’t until I saw the title written on the back of the etching that I knew it was of a bell tower. Two bell tower images, purchased within a few months of each other, both now in my house. I’d admired the etching for years and not even known what it was.
So what about bell towers? They are where the church uses to call the faithful to prayer. But “the call” can also mean the call from God. It can mean about the call to ministry, the call to service.
I need to listen to this message.
If I don’t respond to the call, I’ll feel empty. I’ll notice that it isn’t there and feel lost. This isn’t about iconizing the image of a bell tower – it is about heeding what it points to. It is about hearing the call and responding to it. It is about realizing that if I don’t respond, I’ll feel like I’ve missed out on my life’s purpose.
Does this mean I’m being called to the ordained ministry? No. Most certainly not. The more I read of the words of Jesus, the more I know with all certainty that the ordained ministry is a direct affront to Jesus’ wishes.
Jesus came to take away the power from the authorities. He removed all divisions between God and people, and between different groups of people. Jesus says we are all good, and we are all ministers, by virtue of our baptism.
So what, exactly? I feel like I’ll know when I get there. It would be nice to follow along a path that others have trod. It would be nice to be able to say what I’m headed towards, but there aren’t words yet. Perhaps it should just suffice to say that I’m headed towards God, and forget about the how or the what or even the when. Just do it, you know?
Meanwhile I’m going to fall and fail and trip a lot. Meanwhile I’m going to tick some people off and alienate some others. In short, I’m going to be human.
Basically, I’m like a bell tower. I want to call others to prayer. I want people to go towards God. If I can show them a path or light the way, awesome. Meanwhile, I have to hear and heed the call for myself.
But bell towers crumble, and get dirty, and birds start to nest in them. They stop working right.
Just like how I don’t want to get stuck iconizing the image of the bell tower, I don’t want people to focus on me. I don’t want people to think I’ve got all the answers, because I certainly don’t. I want people to know that they are forgiven and loved, and that they are supposed to go do the same.