I took mom to a funeral the other day. We do that often. At her age, you go to lots of funerals, either someone else’s, or your own.
During the mass, the bells in the church tower began to ring. I was flooded with emotion. I remembered hearing the bells of the church next to my grammar school as they marked the liturgy of the hours.
The idea of stopping every few hours to pray originated with Saint Benedict, sometime around 500 CE. In its original form, there were eight times every day that the bells called the faithful to prayer, Matins (midnight), Lauds, (dawn), Prime (6 a.m.), Terce (third prayer, 9 a.m.), Sext or Midday (noon), None (9th hour, 3 p.m.), Vespers (the lighting of the lamps, 6 p.m.) and Compline (night prayer, 9 p.m.). The modern iteration is a bit less involved, and lets you sleep through the night.
Muslim clerics call the faithful to prayer five times a day, Fajr (dawn), Dhuhr (midday), Asr (afternoon), Maghrib (sunset) and Isha (night prayer.) Instead of using bells, the muezzin call from the tops of towers above the mosque. Same idea, different technology.
When I was working at the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel and riding my bike into Hartford, I would occasionally hear the Terce bells at St. Agustine’s in Barry Square if I was running late in the morning. Even though I knew it meant I was going to have to stay a bit later in the afternoon, I would often stop and listen. Whether you pray or not, tuning into the rhythms of the world is a nice way to start your day.
Just as the liturgy of the hours marks the progress of the day, so it also marks the progress of life. We move from dawn through school, into marriage and careers, and later watch what we have accomplished slip away, just as afternoon leads to sunset and to night.
Mom and her contemporaries seem to understand that waning light, the time when day gives way to night, is part of the natural cycle of life. Dylan Thomas urged his father to "rage, rage against the dying of the light." Some do. Others are content to let things flow as they will and they must.
One of my great pleasures in life has been teaching law. Watching young folks move from theory to practice, from dreams to careers, tunes you in to the fact that the cycles of life continue. Though I am reaching the point where I will be passing the mantle to others, I am content with the knowledge that they, too, will follow me as I have followed those I learned from.
When we are in the prime of our lives and careers, it is easy to forget that there are things more important than every billable hour, every last business or professional opportunity. Many of us never stop and take stock until some external event—an illness, a death, a trauma forces us to consider where we are and where we should be going. For some of us, a tragedy such as the Newtown shootings will force reflection on things bigger than the daily grind.
The Rules Committee has recently received the report of the MCLE study committee. In addition to a "boot camp" experience for new lawyers, which was ultimately rejected by the Rules Committee, the report suggests that lawyers in every judicial district come together once a year to reflect on law and lawyering and how we can do things better. I think that is a good idea.
Yes, these professionalism days have not been well attended in recent years. And yes, the plan is to have the costs borne by local bars, some of which have no budget for it. But I think that taking a few hours together every year to tune into the rhythms of our professional lives is a good thing.
Maybe what we need to do is institute the liturgy of the hours in our courthouses. If we stopped every few hours and took a brief moment to think about things greater than our present troubles, we might all be better for it. If we stopped short calendar for a minute every morning to shake hands with our opponents and to welcome new members to the bar, practicing law might be more of a profession and less of a grind.
Listen to the bells.•