For four years I was an Assemblies of God minister and a monk with the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at the Little Portion Hermitage. This is an excerpt from my book Taking Off My Comfortable Clothes: Removing Religion to Find Relationship.
We had just entered the chapel for the noontime prayer called the Angelus when John Michael said, “Jim, go ring the Angelus bell.” Great, I thought, another chance to be obedient in a tradition I disagreed with. But John Michael asked me to do it, and when you’ve taken a three-year vow of obedience, it is a little difficult to say “No.”
The Angelus is a short devotion at noon honoring the Incarnation. It involves three repetitions of the Hail Mary and is prayed in conjunction with the ringing of a bell. So, even though I was sure I was that didn’t want to do it, but at the same time not quite sure how to get out of it, I walked out of the chapel and down the little path that led to the bell.
Having arrived at the bell, the full impact of the quandary I was in began to take hold. The Angelus is a prayer followed by one bell, followed by another prayer and another bell, a third prayer and a final bell. Now, since I couldn’t hear the prayer in the chapel, I had to recite the prayer with the community in order to ring the bell at the proper time. After the first ringing of the bell, the prayer goes like this:
“The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary: And she conceived of the Holy Spirit. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of
our death. Amen.”
“Behold the handmaid of the Lord: Be it done unto me according to Thy word. Hail Mary….”
“And the Word was made Flesh: And dwelt among us. Hail Mary. . . .”
Now, the tricky part was saying the prayer along with the community so that I didn’t ring the bell while they were still reciting the prayer, nor wait too long so that they sat in silence waiting for me to ring the bell before they started the next phrase. Having sat through many an Angelus, I knew this was a tricky thing to do. Although I had theological issues with the prayer, I still didn’t want to mess it up. (You know you’re in a tough bind when your pride and your theology are in an argument. My solution was to let my pride fall and my theology to expand—a solution that has worked for me many times since.)
I wish I could say that I walked down to the bell with a happy heart and a compliant spirit, but I wasn’t then, and in many ways I’m still not, that spiritually mature. I argued with John’s decision all the way to the bell, making sure that God knew my thoughts on the whole situation, and it wasn’t until I had my hands on the rope of the bell that God started speaking to my heart. I came to understand that the issue was not theology, but the ability to worship Him through service to others.
If you haven’t discovered this already, there will be many times in your life when you will be required to do something that you may not like or agree with, but you know it is still the right thing to do because you are not doing it for yourself, but for the sake of others. When God started dealing with my heart that day (I wanted to argue that it was only a theological/ denominational issue in my head, but God knew better), I began to understand that one of the key ways we worship God is by serving others. Ringing the bell was not a “worshipful” experience for me, but it was for my fellow community members. If I could just get myself out of the way long enough, I would find that in serving them in their chosen mode of worship and devotion, I just might find that God was pleased with my sacrifice.