“Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, and she shall have music wherever she goes.” When little, cousin Brenda and I fulfilled this old nursery rhyme. We borrowed little metal bells off the Christmas tree, hooked them into the tops of our socks, and then marched through the house making as much noise as possible. I’m sure the performance drove our parents to the brink, but Pap loved it. He’d grin so wide his one gold tooth shone brighter than the star on top of the tree. His obvious delight fueled our enthusiasm and we’d stomp around all the more.
Most everyone has some connections to bells. Maybe we wake up to one. Maybe we’ve waited for one to begin school, dismiss classes, or be gathered in after recess. When Pap got older and needed assistance, mom placed a large brass school bell near his bed at night in case he needed her help. A few times she said it sounded like a freight train coming through the house causing her to spring into action from a sound sleep. At my house, for better or worse, my husband and I have trained our dogs to ring a bell hanging from the door handle when they need let out to go potty. Yes, we both realize we are the ones who are trained.
Dogs smartly ring bells to summon their owners, but it is the majestic cow that gives bells dignity. In Switzerland, the cows wear bells on their collars when they go to the higher elevations during summer. This is common among grazing animals and the ringing is a safety feature that allows the farmer to know where his herd or flock is.
With the bells of Switzerland still ringing in my great-great-grandmother Babetta Heller’s ears, she left everything she knew to come to America and settle in Hacker Valley, WV. When she got homesick, she’d find solace sitting on the ridge behind her house (now the Klee Farm on Holly River State Park) and imagine she could hear the familiar church bells of her homeland. Bells in churches have been used for centuries to let the community know it’s time to gather for worship, to celebrate, or even assist in crises like house fires. Sometimes, the sound might even cure homesickness.
…or bring surprising comfort. Tragically, my cousin Brenda passed from this life in an accident and her sister arranged a loving tribute. On January 14, 2001 the English Peal Bells and Carillon bells rang 46 minutes for Brenda Sue from the highest point in Washington, DC at the National Cathedral, a ceremony usually reserved for heads of states and dignitaries. The impressive bells, which require multiple ringers and a conductor, vary in size with the largest being nine feet in diameter and weighing 24,000 pounds. Ringing in unison with those mighty bells were those equally sincere at country churches in Waverly and Hacker Valley, WV.
Sometimes bells commemorate a life passed and sometimes they signal life itself. Exodus 28:33-35 contains the single yet fascinating reference to bells found in scripture. Here small gold bells were added to the hem of the high priest’s robe. When he entered the Holy of Holies, as long as the attendants could hear bells chiming as he walked around, they knew he was still in God’s favor and was still alive!
In Jesus’ testimony he says, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore…” (Revelation 1:18) Like the bells on the high priest’s robe proclaiming he was still alive, may church bells everywhere on Easter Sunday (and every Sunday) declare a living Savior resounding “He’s alive! He’s alive! He’s alive!”
Side note: We may not wear actual cow bells, but our Master knows where we are and will rescue us. Let our heart’s song resonate for all to hear with” music wherever we go”. And couldn’t we all use more cowbell?
Janet Cowger- Fliegel