Friday, January 23, 2009

Temple Bells

I often come across writings which move me and today was no exception. This afternoon, as I was cleaning out my closet, I came across "The Temple Bells" by Anthony de Mello, SJ -- a small story which can be found amongst others in de Mello's book called "The Song Of The Bird." I had forgotten about this particular story over the years, even though my friend John first introduced me to it back in October 1999. But, as often as is the case, things have a way of circling back to you exactly when you need them most. May you enjoy it!


The temple had stood on an island two miles out to sea. And it held a thousand bells. Big bells, small bells, bells fashioned by the best craftsmen in the world. When a wind blew or a storm raged, all the temple bells would peal out in unison, producing a symphony that sent the heart of the hearer into raptures.

But over the centuries the island sank into the sea and, with it, the temple and the bells. An ancient tradition said that the bells continued to peal out, ceaselessly, and could be heard by anyone who listened attentively. Inspired by this tradition, a young man traveled thousands of miles, determined to hear those bells. He sat for days on the shore, opposite the place where the temple had once stood, and listened--listened with all his heart. But all he could hear was the sound of the waves breaking on the shore. He made every effort to push away the sound of the waves so that he could hear the bells. But all to no avail; the sound of the sea seemed to flood the universe.

He kept at his task for many weeks. When he got disheartened he would listen to the words of the village pundits who spoke with unction of the legend of the temple bells and of those who had heard them and proved the legend to be true. And his heart would be aflame as he heard their words . . . only to become discouraged again when weeks of further effort yielded no results.

Finally he decided to give up the attempt. Perhaps he was not destined to be one of those fortunate ones who heard the bells. Perhaps the legend was not true. He would return home and admit failure. It was his final day, and he went to his favorite spot on the shore to say goodbye to the sea and the sky and the wind and the coconut trees. He lay on the sands, gazing up at the sky, listening to the sound of the sea. He did not resist that sound that day. Instead, he gave himself over to it, and found it was a pleasant, soothing sound, this roar of the waves. Soon he became so lost in the sound that he was barely conscious of himself, so deep was the silence that the sound produced in his heart.

In the depth of that silence, he heard it! The tinkle of a tiny bell followed by another, and another and another . . . and soon every one of the thousand temple bells was pealing out in glorious unison, and his heart was transported with wonder and joy.


olinmt said...

this is my favorite!

Kelly McGannon said...

it's one of my favorites, too! i just love him as a writer. he gets into your face and forces you to re-think everything.