Puslapio vaizdai


Sunday Bells


Illustrations by John R. Neill

RE all of us potentially devotees, I wonder, Now, I Now, I am an unbeliever, a heretic, a backslider from the tried ancestral Presbyterianism of my grandfathers. I do not know by what ill name you would call me; I do not know how to classify myself; only I only I find my

self disbelieving almost everything I hear when I sit under the Sunday bells. My reason moves in a different world of thought. It is nevertheless true that when the bells ring and I look up to the aspiring steeples against the sky in the middle of a Sunday morning, or when I hear them sounding upon the quiet of the Sunday evening dusk or sending their clear-toned invitation out through the secular bustle of the mid-week streets and in at doors and windows, summoning, summoning, there is that in me that hears them and starts up and would obey. It must be something my grandmoth ers left there my long line of untraceable grandmothers back, back through the hundreds of years. I won

der if in all the other people of this questioning generation whose thoughts have separated them from the firm, sustaining certainties of the past the same ghostly allegiance rises, the same vague emotions stir and quiver at the evoking of the Sunday bells. I should think it altogether likely, for I have never found that in anything very real in me I am at all different from everybody else I meet

I suppose all our grandfathers would

recognize it as pointing to the invincible truth of the body of doctrine we denythe spirit wrestling within us to bring us back out of our wilful darkness into light. But we heretics, we misbelievers, we see it otherwise. We do not find ourselves able to substitute an emotion for an argument. The genesis of our emotions is too complex. How can what we know has been variously molded, however poignantly we feel ithow can it stand to us for proof of the world and the world to come?

The Sunday bells! I sit in the morning quiet of the old Moravian Cemetery and

I hear them ringing near. They are not so golden-voiced, those first bells, as if they had been more lately made; but I think it may be they go the deeper into my feelings for that. Some people pass, leisurely at first, starting early and strolling at ease through the peaceful Sunday morning on the way to church, talking together as they go: ladies, middle-aged and elderly, the black-dressed Sunday ladies whose serene wontedness suggests that they have passed this very way to that very goal one morning in seven since their lives began; a father with his boy and girl; three frolicsome youngsters together in their Sunday clothes loitering through the sunny square with many divagations, and chattering happily as they go,-I am not so sure their blithe steps will end at the church door,-but yet they may; a young girl, fluttering pink ruffles and hurrying. I think she is going to sing in the choir and must be there early. She has the manner of one who fears she is already the least moment late for flawless earliness. Other young girls with their young men are walking consciously together in tempered Sunday sweethearting. And so on and on till the bell has_rung a last summons, and the music has risen, and given way to silence, and the last belated comers have hurried by, looking at accusing watches, and gone within, to lose their consciousness of guilt in that cool interior whose concern is with eternity, not time. Along all the other streets of the diverse town I fancy them streaming, gathering in at the various doors, on one business bent, obeying one impulse in their many ways, one common, deep-planted instinct that not one of them can philosophize back to its ultimate, sure source, though it masters them all-the source that is deeper than

lifelong habit or childhood teaching or the tradition of the race; the source out of which all these came in their dim beginnings.

But how multiform the expression of that instinct! In how many moods and understandings the various public walks to church! Here in the Moravian Church I know how they sit, sprinkled somewhat sparsely through the pews, devout, but seeming chill, austerely other-worldly, the unites fratrum, but not making one feel brotherhood domnant in their gray-walled, cool-lighted,

earnest church; individualistic, rather, each lifting his soul to his God within his own self-contained and inexpressive consciousness, sitting a little apart from his next neighbor. Down on the other side of the river, where the Slovaks come to their Catholic Church, there is scarcely room for them all within the doors; they sit close, as many as the pews will hold, and the rest kneel on the bare floor to the very doors. The air is thick with the candles and the prayers and breaths and crowding of so many, many people, day after day. The children of this faith must not stay away from church, or their souls, they know, are threatened. It is the one rigid rule of life.


"Each lifting his soul to his God

within his own self-contained and inexpressive consciousness"

One half the crowded, colorful great room is packed with women and girls, the other side is packed as close with the boys and men, and there is no mingling. The color is along the walls, in the painted holy sculptures; in the richcolored silken banners hanging from their standards down the long side aisles, with holy pictures on them, too; in the glittering high altar; in the innumerable yellow jewel points of candle-flames. It is not in the women kneeling there. They come soberly to church, dressed for the most part in dark colors, and many of them in black.

their heads black-shawled or blackveiled with devout humility. There is more variety of color, or at least of high lights and shadows, on the men's side, where the bared heads give the variety of flesh tints, at least, above the black shoulders, and of different hues of hair. It is a strangely somber congregation in a church vivid with color and candlelight. The black-robed priest stands before the altar, speaking to his dense, silent people in an eloquent voice in the Slovak tongue. Beside him, high over him, hangs a tortured, realistic Christ, fascinating, compelling, terrible. Its painted, life-sized reality is a thing to haunt the imagination. To me, the heretic, it is an image of gruesome horror, an unforgiving symbol for a religion of eternal resentment, not tenderness. But under it the people kneel humbly and pray; lips move, and the beads of rosaries slip through accustomed fingers. Far in the dim, outer aisle a little old, old woman, a black wraith with veiled head, drifts like

of-Europe emotionality and fervor of expression. The church, you feel, is poetry, romance, the fullness and richness of life. The glow of color feasts these hungering, black-veiled communicants, irradiating the whole fabric of gray years. The imagery is not melodrama, but release, all that poor life denies.

Amidst the Moravians the antipodal mood is about you, and shows you its beauty in turn, austere, repressed. Light restrained through windows whose long lattice takes away its outdoor sparkle and lets it enter cool and nun-like, a disciplined and sober light.


No stained glass paints it with deluding color; no candles burn. It is a beautiful interior, gray, quiet, spacious, restrained, reminding one of the sober seriousness of life, they duty of morality, of calm patience, of the abnegation of things wordly, of the stable soul. Sitting there, one knows gradually that the church is for a stronghold against the buzzing, petty, transient, foolish things, the sanctuary where man may keep unmarred and unforgotten that higher inner dignity that sustains his life amidst unmeaning circumstance.


"Going ungovernably to sleep"

a silent shadow to the altar of a saint and kneels and whispers her supplication. In all the pews and in the kneeling group in the space behind the pews workroughened, knotted, swollen hands hold worn Slovak prayer-books, their covers limp with long handling, though they came to church and will go home again wrapped in clean handkerchiefs, reverently. The old and the young are here, and babies in arms; but so many old! People are old after few years among the hard-working; women especially, for they bear many children quickly.

This is not in America. It is thousands of miles and a wide ocean away from the Moravian Church on the other side of the river, farther still removed from the Lutheran and the Presbyterian and the Methodist on their several corners up the street. As you stand there, an alien, on the edge of the congregation, and feel that solemn bell of the service sounding again and again through the hidden deeps of the responding multitude and your own self, the thick air is vibrant with the South

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door, and only a few steps wide from the outer wall of the brothers' side to the outer wall of the sisters'; and his voice fills the neighborhood and announces the nearness of the chapel to people getting off

the car at the nex corner. He leans over his reading-desk; hc emphasizes his periods resoundingly upon it; he crouches; he springs to his height. It is an athletic fervor of exhortation; it would need a strong man to sustain such an exhausting business through meeting after meeting. He almost loses his balance at the edge of his platform, keeps it, and admonishes the table that stands on the floor below it with his fist as if it were the sinful world. "Amen!"

was n't bad-about an hour." And they sing, without the artifice of organ or of piano even, without a choir, just sing, the unexhausted preacher leading from his desk. And then they pass the

"Unseating the scornful"

"That 's true!" "Yes!" "That's right!" "Amen!" rises and falls the accompanying chorus from the pews. A white, old head slips jerkily back and forth in the manner of one going ungovernably to sleep; its white, old beard stands straight out. Suddenly one last jerk wakes the uncomfortable sleeper; his mouth snaps shut, and his eyes open for one minute. "That's true!'" he ejaculates fervently, and yields to sleep again. "Listen!" shouts the preacher, like a pistol-shot, and all wandering thoughts jerk back to hear about the sinner, once pious, who slipped from grace and did things that "in all my lifetime I never thought he would do," because he was a hypocrite, deceiving and self-deceived, of an unfounded false semblance of religion worse than


The preacher wipes his brow, glances at the clock, and changes his voice to conversational.

"I preached short," he said, with an understanding smile, looking round upon his friends and neighbors. "That

ballots and elect a Sunday-school superintendent, old and young voting, from the smallest who are old enough to direct a pencil up to the white-haired sleeper, refreshed from his nap. Have they all stayed through, I wonder, from Sunday-school straight through. They have their Sunday-school papers, and have hospitably given one with the hymn-book to the stranger within their doors, so I judge they have. There is more business yet, which the preacher goes on with while the elec

ion committee counts the ballots on the table at the foot of the pulpit-desk, and the young people exchange remarks no longer repressible, and the very young, the babies, whose voices have been making an unnoticed undercurrent of small pipings all the time, change tone and begin to be insistent, with a rising and earnest wrath at these protracted hours. It is not the mood of reverence here


"An elder"

-not reverence for life or man or God, say I, the alien, swayed by the outsides of things. In this form, too, that Protean, strange urging in the soul of man

comes to expression, as genuine in its kind his manifold, mastering belief in something beyond that sets him a duty and dictates him a law. Week-days are not enough to live in; besides the house of daily habitation, there must be the meeting-house for Sundays, where one may be rebuked, reminded, and may fortify his determination with new armor for the six days to come, buckling it firmly on with each "That 's true!" "Amen!" looking vigilantly around to see whether his neighbors buckle theirs, too. Duty is harsh; all men are vile; it is the preacher's business to chastise, and, unseating the scornful, to point the finger at him and to hold him up to the deserved reprobation of mankind

I do not know what the Mennonite Church means. I cannot understand its

preacher. He

speaks a foreign tongue. His words are English, but their significance is foreign to my soul. I cannot go there again. I am an esthete

their little, little babies, new mothers, waiting till the end of the service, when the priest will come down in his robes and give them baptism there in the space behind the pews. A very young mother, with a broad, tranquil peasant face, pushes the door open and comes in, and stands for a moment hushing tiny murmurings from the morsel in her arms, -so little, so swathed, and so motionless it seems scarcely yet alive, and the people in the back pew sit closer and make room for her, reverencing the Madonna there, too. Before the altar the young boys in their vesture of white lawn and scarlet kneel, and their young voices rise in the service, and the heavenly choir-I think it must be, for I see nothing, and music comes heartshakingly from behind me and abovethe heavenly choir pours a flood. of



over their light tones; and the priest, standing in the middle of their kneeling white-and-scarlet row, is a figure so splendid in his luminous robe of green and gold, with his face to the altar and his back to the church, and his arms uplifted, that my spirit is content, my ears, alone in this Polish congregation, understanding not one word. Or sometimes, having wandered, in choosing, I will turn back past the low stone Greek Church on its hillside, and the little Italian, and the square, brickbuilt Hungarian on opposite sides of the street, and on toward the Irish Catholic, whose high, gray stone spire slenderly pierces heaven, and when I come to the Windish Evangelical Lutheran, holding its gold crosses aloft on its red-tiled steeple, there I will stop, and pushing open its door, I will sit in

in religion, a ro- "Slovaks come to their Catholic Church. manticist. I shall

go down the hill


and kneel on the bare floor to the very doors"

and across the bridge, rather, to the place where a little white chapel stands on a hilly lot, shut in by a high fence, and set on a high foundation, so that one must climb a dozen steps to its door. In its steep yard the flags of the United States and Poland hang together and invite the young man to the Polish recruiting station. At the top of the steps the door can scarcely be pushed open for the kneeling worshipers behind the crowded pews. Women are there with

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