For a number of years, I lived in Minneapolis where I worked as an editor for Decision magazine. Many afternoons at the 2:45 break, I’d take a walk through nearby Loring Park. A pretty little park with a small lake at its center, it was a good place to go and clear my mind toward the end of the workday.
One October afternoon in 1990, I walked along the paths that were strewn with leaves. The trees were almost bare now and another harsh Minnesota winter was closing in. I kept my eyes lowered and felt my shoulders hunch against the chilly air.
Inside, I felt as bleak as the landscape. My 20s had been years of loss, including the death of my mother and several failed relationships. Now I was 30 and still living alone, far from family. Being single at my age, as well as geographically isolated from loved ones, certainly wasn’t what I had dreamed of for my life.
To make matters worse, I was in love with someone outside of work. No one knew, not even the man himself, who certainly didn’t love me in return.
The only thing loving this man did for me was to make me feel even more alone and unlovable than I felt when I met him, and that’s saying something because I’d already spent the decade of my 20s riding the elevator down to the bottom floor of self-contempt. I had no idea there was a sub-basement where things could be even darker, but on that October day in Loring Park in 1990, I was there. I was tired of grief and tired of loneliness, and yet both weighed on me so heavily my bones ached.
As I walked along the path, something interrupted my thoughts. The bells in the Basilica across the street began to chime. One, two, three times they rang, indicating the time was three o’clock. But it wasn’t the time that mattered to me, it was the very real sense in that startling moment that the bells were something more than bells, they were the voice of God, breaking into my loneliness and reminding me that God loves me. As their echo faded, I felt the heaviness lift. I distinctly sensed the otherness of God breaking into the ordinariness of my life, simply to comfort me.
I looked up at the bell tower and decided the next day I’d come out to the park at lunchtime to hear the bells strike the hour at noon. If the bells were speaking of love, I wanted to hear them ring not just three times but twelve.
The next day was a bit warmer as I settled myself on a bench not far from the Basilica. It was a few minutes before noon and, with the church behind me, I looked out over the park and waited. At last, slowly and heavily the bells began to toll, calling out the hour. I counted along, savoring each chime. One, two, three…nine, ten, eleven. They rang twelve times, but they didn’t stop. Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. They went on ringing until, in my wonder and confusion, I lost count. I stood and turned and gazed up at the tower as the bells rang on and on, calling out God’s love over the city, over the park, over me.
Maybe the bells had simply gotten stuck. Maybe some workers needed to keep the bells ringing while they evaluated them. Maybe the extended chorus celebrated some church holiday I didn’t know about. Maybe.
All I know is that it happened when I needed it to happen. Almost three decades later, I still marvel at the timing and the message, and I take comfort in knowing God’s love for me is far greater than I can count or think or imagine.