Saturday, December 22, 2012

...for whom the bell tolls

Yesterday morning, after we stood for a few moments around the baptismal font inside the church, in silence,  a small group of us moved outside into the bitterly cold and blustery morning. At 9:30 AM at St. John's Episcopal Church the church bell was rung. 28 times. We were close enough to the bell that the sound was almost deafening, piercing the silence of both the neighborhood and our eardrums. And then it was over. Silence again.

Not everyone who is a member of St. John's or in our neighborhood was able to come and stand with us, but many honored that silence, that brief time of prayer, wherever they found themselves at 9:30 AM, to remember those who were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary and in Newtown, Connecticut. Some people in our congregation/community also mourn for those who have died because of violence in other places, other times.

I could not help but think of poet John Donne and his "...ask not for whom the bell tolls." After a little googling work I uncovered that those familiar words are not a line in one of his poems but actually from a devotion he wrote, a 1624 work of prose titled Devotions upon Emergent Occasions. This made me laugh a little as I think of how we banter about the term "emergent" church these days--looks like Donne was way ahead of us.

Donne had suffered from a serious illness. Some believe it was typhus but Donne, nor others, ever seem to clearly identify the disease. Perhaps the name of the disease did not and does not matter. The fact was Donne was getting well, feeling better. 

But he credits that illness with opening his eyes and heart to a new way to see the world and others, a heightened awareness of how connected we all are to one another:

No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; 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 Mannor 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.

Indeed, we are not independent islands but we are bound together as a community of humankind--a "peece of the Continent" as Donne terms it. Any person's death diminishes each of us. No wonder we have felt so exhausted and so sorrowful this past week--in a matter of minutes, we were diminished by 28 deaths, deaths that we know should never have happened, deaths that have diminished all of us.

Bells tolled at our churches, in our neighborhoods, in our downtowns and in the countrysides throughout our nation--and far beyond the boundaries of this nation. We are so connected one to the other, that even if one little piece of us disappears, we are less because of that loss....never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne

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