Christ Reminds Us That No Man Is an Island

There is great news to be found in the past, in the works of great Christians who can still enlighten us today.  John Donne, a poet and a minister who lived in 17th century England wrote among my favorite passages discussing the spiritual life. He preached at St. Paul’s Cathedral, the chief church in London and one of the most famous churches on the planet. Toward the end of his life, he orated a series of sermons which he called ”Meditations.” The quote below is a part from a sermon that is longer, and is among the most famous sermons in the English language —

‘No Man is an Island’

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Olde English Version

No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man
is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine;
if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe
is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as
well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine
owne were; any mans death diminishes me,
because I am involved in Mankinde;
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

MEDITATION XVII
Devotions upon Emergent Occasions
John Donne

No man is an island: we don’t, should not, and can not stand alone — to love, and and Christ’s directions to go out into the planet and help others remind us of this. Cut of from the planet, cut off from God’s loving embrace, we are like nothing — we’re like Robinson Crusoe; a man stranded for eternity on a desolate desert island.
As Donne states, “Any any man’s death diminishes [us],” because all men are beloved by Christ, and losing of a solitary man is a disaster like unto the destruction of the globe; each person is unique, and will never recurr again. By this disaster is checked, is absolved, is healed, by the understanding of our coming eternal life in Paradise. Otherwise, the depression of departure would be too much to bear.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” This really is perhaps John Donne’s most well-known quote. The bell that he speaks of is  which was rung at the time in the streets of England:  the bell signified that a person in the locality had expired. Ask not for whom the bell tolls — for whom the bell rings — it will ring, in time, for all us of, as our existence that is mortal is ended by us and come into our one that is everlasting. (And John Donne, when he gave this sermon, understood that his own departure wasn’t very far off — he had already suffered a nearly fatal illness, and died not long thereafter.)
Ultimately, Donne finishes his sermon by saying this: “I take mine own [life] into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.” Christ is our protection and our rock, and therefore we need fear no Thing. And if, for us, the bell must eventually ring after a lengthy and worthy existence, we can hear it with fulfillment, knowing that it signals our entrance into a second lifestyle that is unending, more fulfilling, greater and beauteous.

 

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