“Bells across the Snow,” Ensign, Apr. 1995, 65
Snow whirled faster and thicker, but that didn’t bother me. I had come to the woods for solitude and prayer on this significant Sabbath day because the silence and snow matched my mood. Jabbing my ski poles into the deep, thinly crusted snow, I pushed off beneath the towering pines.
After nine months as a foreign exchange student in a small Finnish village, I could communicate only in the simplest ways. This hindered me from sharing my testimony of the restored gospel with my new friends. Those good people, thoughtful and caring as they were, did not have much room for religion in their lives, nor did they give me opportunities to discuss the subject.
Compounding this frustration was the fact that on this Easter Sunday it had not been possible for me to travel to Latter-day Saint meetings held far away. So I had come to spend some time alone in the frozen forest. Though I did not then know it, I would also learn a lesson of love and tolerance.
I swept down an incline and surged out across the open expanse of a frozen lake. Snow fell even more quickly here, blotting the lake’s far side from view as well as the lake and the trees I had left behind. The new powder was already deep enough to break my speed and begin hiding the trail. Crossing the wide lake sapped my strength. Because it was all I could do to keep track of the trail, I worried about becoming lost.
From the edge of the lake, the trail turned steeply upward. Breathless, I paused at the hilltop as snow swarmed like white bees through the gathering darkness.
I slid forward again. “Just over this next hill,” I told myself. Maybe I would see a road, or at least a light. Surely I would find a light …
But it wasn’t the light that reached my senses first. Instead, the cold air carried a faint sound. I bent into my strides with renewed energy and soon burst over the hilltop into a joyous cacophony of pealing bells.
Then softly, compellingly, the words of a countermelody passed through my mind: He is risen! He is risen! Tell it out with joyful voice. He has burst his three days’ prison; Let the whole wide earth rejoice. The joyous message pierced my melancholy spirit, and suddenly I understood that I could celebrate Easter no matter how alone I felt in my beliefs. My testimony rang inside of me as clear and true as the church bells. Death is conquered, man is free. Christ has won the victory (Hymns, 1985, no. 199).
Chagrined, I began to realize how shallow I had been to allow my feelings of isolation to determine my spiritual fulfillment. But the Spirit touched me further.
As I listened to the bells, I strained to see their source through the falling snow. Below me nestled a tiny Greek Orthodox church, and in its onionlike turret a coatless woman was energetically hitting the bells with mallets.
He is risen! The words were still ringing in my heart when the doors of the little church burst open and worshippers wrapped in dark coats streamed out into the whirling snow. They clutched their candles tightly to their chests to protect the tiny flames from the storm. Led by three priests, the singing procession began circling the chapel.
The group had nearly finished its seventh pass around the church when I first saw her—a girl stumbling behind the others and holding her candle high with both hands. The wind had snuffed out the candle’s flame. As the procession swept back inside the chapel, a cocoon of light and warmth, I realized the girl was blind. Then the great doors thudded shut, the ringing stopped, and the darkness of night was complete. All was quiet except for snatches of a priest’s voice carried across the frigid air.
Though the Finnish language was still foreign to me, there was no longer a chasm between me and the people among whom I was living. I had felt of the spirit of their devotions, and I realized there were believing people who exercised their religious faith as best they knew how. I thought that surely the blind girl’s raised candle, though small and burned out, could be a torch in the eyes of the Savior.
My body was tired and cold, but a glowing, shimmering feeling had crept into my heart. My memory of the blind girl moved me to exercise greater degrees of love, tolerance, and patience for the rest of my time away from home.
The words He is risen! He is risen! still resounded in my mind as I waited outside the church. After the service, I would ask directions and find my way home, warmed by Easter bells in my heart and determined to let my own light shine brighter than before (see Matt. 5:14–16).