Dec 1, 2008

The Bells Tolled for Me

I attended Multnomah Bible College in Portland, Oregon for three years and like virtually every other student there, I would often find myself studying my class work in the beautiful John Mitchell Library on campus. Diagonally across from the library’s main entrance is the quaint and quiet, old fashioned Prayer Chapel. It serves as an almost secret sanctuary in the midst of the campus.

From time to time, individual students will slip inside for a brief retreat from the hectic college life. It is very quiet inside and often there is no one inside, or at most one or two people silently praying, meditating or reading their Bibles. On the outside of the Prayer Chapel, on top of the little white steeple, is a clock and a church bell. It plays a short, traditional bell melody, then strikes out the hour. The bells may be digitally synthesized rather than actual bells but I remember the tone as always sounding very authentic.

Many of those days, more than I could count, I would be at a study cubicle right at the noon hour, when the Prayer Chapel bells would begin the session of their longest chimes. The rich tones would begin to play the familiar bell-tower type melody, I think it was the Westminster Chime. I would stop and listen to the tune which lasted for perhaps 15 seconds. Slowly, I would put my pen to rest on the desk.

The chime would finish, and then…the hour bells would begin. And in my own little world, it literally seemed as though the whole busy, noisy library world around me quickly slowed down then froze in time and everything was silent, waiting for the striking of the bells.

BONG -----------------------------------------------------------------------one

And like most clock chimes, these bells had a deep and slightly off-key tone that gave it an added feeling of seriousness---like it was something very ancient and significant.

As the bell went on a mounting sense of trepidation or foreboding would develop as each bell struck closer to the twelfth hour.


It felt as though the bells were tolling out for the Final Judgment of the world; whose time had at last come. Everything stood still, waiting for the moment when the twelfth bell would sound and the Great and Terrible Judge of the Earth would take His place and where I and every one else would be required to give an account. The moment was transfixing.


and finally…

the bell would strike twelve…


The striking of the twelfth bell would hang in the air for three or four seconds as the sound slowly echoed off into the future somewhere. At that moment, it was as if the entire world had been given a reprieve. A stay of execution. Another chance. As if there were some great angel standing next to me, watching this whole event unfold and at the end would turn to me and say, “As you see, it is not yet. There is still time.”

The noise and motion in the library would gradually start up again, steadily replacing the little drama as if it had never happened. I’d look around a tiny bit; the other students studying, walking, talking, laughing and carrying on. And then I would slowly join back in, take my pen and pick up where I left off only a minute before. But I would remember.

And I was both sad and glad.

Sad that the time had not come and that I was still here—with work ahead of me.
And I was glad...glad that the time had not come and that I was still here—with work ahead of me.