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Church bells, monastery bells, garden bells, handbells, alarm bells, electric bells, cowbells, jingle bells, ships’ bells, ice cream truck bells, and so many more—seems like bells have always been around. And indeed, they have. In 2000 BCE, with the advancement of metallurgy in ancient China, bells began to appear, slowly infusing themselves into its culture, religion, and way of life. Neighboring countries followed suit.

In addition to various weights of metals, today’s craftsmen produce bells in wood, glass, pottery, and stoneware.

When struck, their sound quickens us, instantly modifies our worlds and rouses feelings: joy, sorrow, fear, dread, order, or inspiration. As the strains fade from awareness, we return to our familiar world, and, if wise, savor the intrusion and learn from it.

Why do bells affect us so? On a deeper level, we consider their symbolic meaning: a universal means of communicating truth—As if the bell’s tongue carries a divine summons to pay attention. And as the poet Mary Oliver reminds us, “Be astonished! Tell about it!”

Time is passing.

 

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“Will you be my friend?” asked Raphael Simi who was confined to the psychiatric hospital at Saint-Jean-les-Deux-Jumeaux in Trosly, a southern suburb of Paris. Next to him stood Philippe Seux, both intellectually disabled and living in deplorable conditions. It was 1964.

A tall strapping professor of ethics listened. Already moved by visits to other institutions warehousing “idiots” and the unseemly, the question changed the direction of his life. Mindful of Jesus’s practical care for the poor, he bought a small house at the edge of a nearby forest and with his new friends set up housekeeping—a messy undertaking but one persevered in.

Daily, often humdrum, interacting dissolved barriers of fear and the customary manner of doing things, opened new inroads into the comic that they shared, and actualized the bedrock of their graced humanness: joy, love, tears, and freedom. From this experience evolved L’Arche (French word for The Ark—like Noah’s), and a quiet revolution was born.

After five decades, such radical care for the unlovely still inflames the psyche of its founder, Jean Vanier, now eight-eight years old. Others of like mind have entered into this movement and following prayerful discernment, developed other group homes in France and around the world. Today, L’Arche has over five thousand members who live in one hundred and fifty-one communities that are spread over five continents. Three of these communities are in St. Louis, Missouri.

This moving story has been captured in Randall Wright’s documentary, Summer in the Forest (2018) and can be seen at the Tivoli Theater in St. Louis, Missouri—another must see.

 

“The only thing I can’t … teach is whether a musician can get through to his guts. They have to find that themselves, and some of them never do.” So says the seventy-two year-old-world-renowned violinist, Itzhak Perlman, the subject of Chernick Alison’s documentary (2018). Such discoveries usually occur in the wake of intense suffering.

I suggest that Itzhak’s came to him during his formative years. His Polish parents fled their country in advance of Hitler’s ghettoization. Their purchase of a toy violin at a Tel Aviv thrift shop for their three-and-a-half-year only son, too small to hold a real one, evidenced their hardscrabble existence. And six months later, their shock as they dealt with Itzhak’s polio-ravaged body.

Multi-faceted interventions followed: medications and special diets to restore what was left of Itzhak’s health, passive range of motion exercises for his paralyzed legs, constant adjustment of his shoes and the heavy leg braces and crutches to accommodate his growth. When thirteen, his prodigious talent brought him and his parents to Manhattan where he began his studies at the Julliard School of Music—again, leaving behind everything familiar.

More studies solidified Itzhak’s violin playing with his gut, the sacred core of his being. Always listening, he still approaches each note with reverence, as if taking direction as to when to enter it, how long to stay, and when to leave it behind. His facial expression reflects this passionate embrace. Such playing informs Itzhak’s uniqueness and still crowds concert halls around the world.

Alison’s short documentary, Itzhak, offers clues to Itzhak’s genius—A must see.

 

 

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