I Bought a Bell


I’m still thinking every day about the On Being Gathering and the conversations I had with 500 strangers in the California woods.

Here’s something a mom said in a talking circle on spirituality and kids – “I wish I had more rituals. I am not religious, but I wish I had more spiritual rituals to share with my kids.”

I wish that, too. I grew up in a southern Church of Christ, and the last place I practiced Christianity was an Episcopal church in West Texas. I adored it. In those last years, as a Christian, I wasn’t big on the religion itself, but I loved the ritual. Growing up in a more charismatic environment, I was always calculating in a worship service – Should I raise my hands? Should I close my eyes? Should I lead the next song? Should I make a prayer request?

In the West Texas Episcopal Church, I loved liturgy. It made me feel cared for. The recitations of prayers, the orchestrated walk to eucharist, the orderly service – it all felt like hospitality to me. It was comforting that I could access my spiritual self without having to wonder what other people were thinking of me, without having to make any decisions other than deciding to be open to the movement of my own spirit.

Years later, after more than a decade of living outside religion, I miss ritual. I miss the physical shorthand of it, the habits that remind your body, quickly and without fuss, of your values, your hopes.

So, I bought a bell.

At the On Being Gathering, Seth Godin spoke about trusting yourself. He said that the reason we don’t move forward, seize our ideas and create new work in the world, is that we don’t trust ourselves. We don’t trust that we will do the right thing. We wait for outside voices like test administrators, bosses, tally takers, to tell us we’re making the right choices. Seth Godin told us all to trust ourselves.

Sitting in the audience, raising my hand for the Q&A mic that never came, I immediately wanted to ask – what then could be a physical ritual that reminds us, without words, without conscious thought, to trust ourselves? What simple spiritual habit would build up this spiritual belief – “Trust yourself. You know what to do next.”

Later that day, I made up my own spiritual ritual. I decided to buy a bell. I’ll call it the Trust Yourself Bell. I’m going to hang this bell by the door in the kitchen. When I come down for breakfast, I’ll ring it. I’ll repeat the mantra – “Trust Yourself.” When I walk out the door I’ll ring the bell. “Trust yourself.” When I come home, I’ll ring it again. “Trust yourself. You know what to do next.”

“Trust yourself. You know what to do next.”

The mom at the On Being Gathering who asked the question about ritual was totally on my wave length. I have been wondering right along with her about the rituals, not habits, but true physical practices that can build in our bodies, and then in our minds, the spiritual beliefs we care so much about. What are the spiritual shorthands of the non-religious?

I bought a bell. I’ll let you know how it goes.


PS. What spiritual rituals have you made up? I would LOVE to know. I might even try them myself!


  1. I’m glad I could sit alongside you in that West Texas Episcopal Church.

    1. I loved those days, Sarah! I miss them!

  2. Jackie Armstrong

    Brent, I can relate to so much of what you say here. As an adult, I am no longer part of the CoC…but I miss the rituals there…acapella music, route biblical memorization. I still practice Christianity as a Presbyterian and for many of the same reasons you list above. I find the liturgy comforting and it takes away the calculation and second guess. Perhaps I should buy a bell! :)

    1. You should buy a bell! And even though I don’t sing or memorize Christian things, I cherish memories like the ones we made at summer camp! Miss you, friend!

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