In one of his *most famous works, 17th century English poet and Anglican cleric John Donne penned two memorable metaphors: “No man is an island,” and “(the bell) tolls for thee.” Too often my mind races to the second phrase. Thankfully, Donne counteracts my over-active morbidness with these additional reminders:
“The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth.” There are other bell-ringings in the life of the Church. Some announce significant moments along the liturgy’s path—e.g. announcing the time for preaching or the Eucharist. Others signal the times for morning and evening prayer. Moments when I am united with others in God’s mercy. I can pay attention to the ringing of other bells—e.g., The Ukrainian child singing her country’s national anthem to thousands!
“Neither can we call this (our attention to death-knells) a begging of misery or a borrowing of misery, as though we are not miserable enough of ourselves but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbors.” This thought pushes at me hard: It’s not helpful to accumulate misery, as though it were somehow more righteous. I need that reminder right now!
“Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” This idea rings warm and comforting to me, especially when I’m wallowing in fear or self-pity. I’m not a small, self-contained island, a lonely speck in the oceans of life. I am part of God’s greater work, part of God’s people. Self-pity, self-flagellation, self-reliance? Not what Spirit-graced people do!
For centuries, church bells have also chimed to announce triumphs and joys. At some point—God knows—those sounds will ripple across the world. Those bells will also ring on the continents where you and I live!
No need to ask….
(*From Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII, John Donne, 1624.) Writing from the perspective of a life filled with recurring physical and economic difficulties, Donne wrote this helpful meditation while recovering from a serious illness.
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