Ushered in with days dedicated to the remembrance of the dead, November is the month in which the light grows weak and death seems nearby. Perhaps it is also the month in which we may more easily approach those across the threshold.
And what about those “so called dead” (as Steiner often referred to them)? Is there a way that we might help them to approach us?
There is a story of two soldiers in the first World War, stationed in the hills above Jerusalem, the night before a battle. One of them, sensing his time was short, told his friend that he did not expect to live, and that he foresaw an even greater war coming in the future. He urged his companion to provide assistance to him, and an army of others who would wish to help “from the other side”, saying: “Lend us a moment…each day and through your Silence give us an opportunity. The power of Silence is greater than you know.”
This is the story behind the Big Ben Silent Minute, which first took place on November 10, 1940, during the time of the London Blitz. By means of the technology of radio, people throughout the British Isles, were able to hear the striking of the bells at 9:00 pm, from the clock tower at Westminster Abbey. And during the time it took for those tones to play out across the airwaves – nearly a minute – listeners observed an inner silence with thoughts or prayers for all who had died in the conflict.
It is said that after the war, a high-level German officer told British interrogators:
“… you had a secret weapon for which we could find no countermeasure and which we did not understand, but it was very powerful. It was associated with the striking of the Big Ben each evening. I believe you called it ‘The Silent Minute.’”
Is it possible that there are those on the other side who would wish to assist us now? And would it help to give them a minute of our silent attention? There are many who believe this to be the case.
In 1940 it was the radio that brought about the minute of silence. Now the internet continues the effort https://www.globalsilentminute.org/history-of-the-silent-minute/ . Sadly, since 2017, it has been without the aid of Big Ben and the other bells, for they have been silenced during a long period of restoration that seems to have a continually moving date of completion. With the assistance of the internet, we may at least hear a reproduction of those same tones.
Known as the “Westminster Quarters” it is traditionally believed that these are four variations on the notes that make up the fifth and sixth bars of “I know that my Redeemer liveth”, from Handel’s Messiah. It does not require much of a stretch to imagine that, like the Easter bells that made such a difference to Geothe’s Faust, the tones of the Westminster bells could have bolstered the effect of the silent prayers in 1940 London. As we all know, although much harm was inflicted in the bombing Blitz, the invasion of Britain by Hitler never did happen. Perhaps it was due to the opening of a “portal for cooperation” with an “unseen but mighty army” from across the threshold. And if that be the case, might we be able, even now, to obtain help for the shifting of consciousness that the world so desperately needs? If so, let us include in our thoughts hope for the reconnection of the bells and with that, also, an acknowledgement of our debts. Before the technology of the internet, and before the technology of the radio, was the technology of communicating to the community through the sounds of the bells ringing. May human beings hear it.