I was attending my brother's wedding in Stuttgart, Germany, several years ago. The Lutheran church where the ceremony was held, the Altes Schloss, dates back to the 14th century, and is the oldest in the city. Despite the bombing during World War II that leveled buildings all around the church, this building had been untouched.
The wedding party was asked to wait in a room that had a domed ceiling of cerulean blue with gold outlines. Soon, the bishop came into the room to explain that the wedding ceremony would be half in English and half in German, so that my brother, who didn't speak German, couldn't say he didn't know what he was agreeing to! The bishop solemnly handed a German Bible to my brother, and told him he hoped he would become familiar with the language enough to read it one day.
Suddenly, we heard a beautiful series of hymns ringing in the courtyard of the church. The bishop turned to Ina, my sister-in-law to be, and said, "The bells are for you, Ina." Ina thanked him and looked appropriately thoughtful. Me, I was crying copiously. She has teased me about this several times - how sentimental I was. I still mist over when I think of the phrase, "The bells are for you." The lovely bride, the happy occasion, the sacred beauty of the church.
It isn't only that I am a sucker for weddings. It was the concept of honoring the bride that meant so much to me. Mary Baker Eddy, who founded this newspaper, wrote, "BRIDE. Purity and innocence, conceiving man in the idea of God; a sense of Soul, which has spiritual bliss and enjoys but cannot suffer" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 582). What hopes and dreams come to mind when we think about weddings. In a way, we can all be brides in our purity and innocence.
"Oh, I'm too pragmatic or cynical for that," you may think. But it really isn't about white dresses and wedding ceremonies. Entering into anything with a purity of motive, an innocence of expectation that seeks good, is a bridal experience. Even greeting each day with this bridal thought connects us to our concept of a loving God who cares for each of His creations with the tenderness of a parent. In a way, you, too, can think "the bells are for you," as you enjoy witnessing how many ways God cares for each one of us.
What about the part of the above description of bride that states, "enjoys but cannot suffer." Certainly, there are both little and large parts of life that can hardly be defined as free from suffering. So is it a sentimental, momentary take on things with which we are deluding ourselves? Is life a cycle of brief periods of suffering and escaping into fantasy? After all, happiness needs to be of sterner stuff than fairy-tale weddings. But looking back to that experience in Germany, I see the symbolism in the church untouched by war, its enduring, solid beauty still standing despite its vulnerable location.
Entering into any commitment is a marriage of sorts, whether it's a personal relationship, a job, or a religious path. We enter into commitments with a desire to be wedded to certain qualities. You know what qualities you hope will be there. For example, would you wed yourself to an atmosphere of distrust or contention? Or would you enter into a commitment with the hopes of a bride for a union that blesses everyone?
A recent ad campaign effectively showed clips of children stating their goals for the future. Instead of having a childlike sense of optimism, the children looked into the camera and stated very negative expectations, such as, "When I grow up, I want to be trapped in a job where I am unhappy and underpaid." The kids in the ads looked so serious that their words really conveyed that no one begins a journey to be unhappy or to suffer.
If we are living lives that don't measure up to joyous expectations, then we have a right to pray and expect to bring into our lives the qualities we hope for. The bells are not just for brides. The bells are for each of us with hopes and dreams, which we trust to a loving God.
And don't be afraid of being accused of being sentimental. You, too, are the spiritual, pure, and innocent child of God. Every day the bells are for you.