“No man is an island,
entire of itself,
Each 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 if a manor of thine own
or thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
for I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
for whom the bell tolls,
It. tolls for thee.”
John Donne, of England, published this poem reflection in 1624. He understood that we are all connected – like drops of water in the ocean waves or a piece of earth on the continent. We are part of the cosmos itself and reflect the face of God – of Creation itself. At times, we believe that when a loved one dies, they are removed from us – taken to heaven, up there somewhere. We mouth the words; “they are in a better place.” We tend to view the earth and the heavens as two distinct realities – separated from one another. In Genesis, we read that man and women were created from the earth itself; in God’s image they. were created and God saw that they were very good. The earth itself is seen as sacred and life giving. Human consciousness is awareness not only of existence, but also of the freedom to say yes or no; to choose life or death. In this, the writers of the scriptures saw a partnership with God the Creator – to care for the earth as sacramental – as life giving.
We grieve the death of those around us, we experience a separation or rupturing of a relationship. We experience relationships of love – of life in the physical reality of both ourselves and the other. We experience the realities of our limitations, weaknesses and our blindness while at the same time, walking with one another in a spirit that lives within matter – and beyond matter. We recognize the spirit that gives matter itself life; that they are intertwined and connected at the core. We also hear the words of the Gospel to recognize that matter and spirit are changed; transformed at birth and at death. We are part of something much larger and grander than we are able to experience. The purpose of contemplation is to come in contact with that spirit that resides within each of us and to recognize that we are sacred and holy. We are also called to listen to the stories of the death and resurrection of Jesus and to understand his teaching that life conquers death and light conquers darkness. We walk in darkness, but Jesus calls us to trust in that Spirit that roams the cosmos, bringing both life and light. In a very real way, birth does not separate us from the mother – and death does not separate us from one another. We become one with the fullness of life and live on in the world coming to be.
As we move through the Easter Season, and come to the feast of the Ascension and of Pentecost, we hear the stories of life, experiencing the journey of becoming, and as a plant, achieving itself by becoming food and life giving for others. At this time of the year, we also celebrate Memorial Day as we recognize those who have gone before us; while feeding us, healing our wounds, giving us water, and walking with us, even for a short time. On this journey, we have been fed and nourished; body and soul that are intimately connected. We are called to be the same for others as we continue to walk together. The grief and aloneness of the crucifixion are lost in the exaltation of the resurrection. This is the story of life; it is our story.
John Donne, a poet who saw the face of God all around and within him, also wrote another Sonnet:
DEATH, BE NOT PROUD:
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou thunk’s thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor death, not yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,j
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou are slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
and dost with poison war, and sickness dwell,
and poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
and better than they stroke; why swell’s thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
and death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”