If you have been to an in-person worship service at St. Paul since Ash Wednesday, you will notice that our time for a centering breath is now concluded with the tri-fold ring of a singing bowl. The questions you might be asking yourself are, "Why are we doing this?" and "Is it okay for Christians to do this?"
To get to those answers, allow me to share a brief history of the singing bowl. Singing bowls or singing bells or a standing bell (as they are called in different parts of the world) have a bit of an unknown past. Some say they are over 5000 years old and come from the land once known as Mesopotamia (located in the Fertile Crescent, land in and between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers usually known as modern day Iraq and Eastern Syria), while others say they are only 1000 years old and come from Persia (modern day Iran). Others claim Tibet and India and China all as birth places of the singing bowl.
Musicians will understand singing bowls as idiophones, or instruments that create sound through vibration. In fact, the vibration of a singing bowl has been shown to actually be able to rearrange water molecules. Because of this, they are thought to have an effect on the human body (made of over 60% water), having a calming and peaceful affect that helps a person come back to center.
According to Ruah Space, "The use of bells in worship goes back all the way to the book of Exodus when the high priest Aaron was instructed to wear bells on his robe so that their sound could be heard every time he entered the Holy Place before the LORD (Exodus 28:33-35). Then, bells began being used in the Christian church sometime in the 5th century when Paulinus of Nola introduced them into the church." In fact, bells and chimes have been used by the Church for centuries to begin worship, call people to a time of prayer, and remind people to take a minute and return to God’s presence.
In other words, these standing bells--these singing bowls--are linked to areas we hear about in our sacred text and they are, at the very least, relatives of the bells referenced in our sacred text. Despite the mythology, singing bowls didn’t begin as a Buddhist or Hindu religious instrument, but rather as a means for everyday household needs, storing grains, or use as currency. One form of them or another have, however, evolved to be used as a meaningful part of prayer and meditation in Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and Christianity.
So when you hear the singing bowl ring out this Sunday, let the vibration help bring you back to center and a new assurance that God is, indeed, near.
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen was called as the pastor of St. Paul Congregational UCC in June of 2020. Prior to her call to St. Paul, Pr. Melissa worked as a hospice chaplain in the Ames, IA area, following pastorates at rural churches in Central Iowa and Southern Illinois. Pr. Melissa is a second-career pastor with a background in agribusiness and production & supply operations. She received her M.Div. from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO, and holds a MA Ed. in Adult Education and Training, and a BA in Organizational Communications.