No Man Is an Island: Praying for Japan


Cherry blossoms
In Japan, cherry blossoms symbolize many things, including beauty and the transitory nature of life. (Click once or twice on the picture to enlarge it.) Photo by Radu Razvan


As I write this, Japan is dealing with the aftermath of the recent earthquake/tsunami and experiencing the agonizing wait-and-see regarding damaged nuclear power plants. All the world watches and prays with them.

 As it so happened, just after the disaster hit on the other side of the world, I was reading a book that quoted this famous passage written by English poet John Donne (1572-1631):

 No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; everyman 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 own were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for who the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

 This reflection is but a portion of Meditation XVII, found in Donne’s book called Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, written while John Donne was confined to bed with a long illness. He would listen to the church bells calling people to gather for prayer. Sometimes the bells signaled a funeral–whose funeral might it be? Would the person who lay dying know the bells were calling people for a funeral? John Donne even wonders if perchance the bells are tolling for his own funeral, but is too sick to comprehend that the bells are for him.

 While pondering the meaning of the bells and the human condition, he comes to the awareness that we are all interconnected by the fact of our human nature. When one suffers, we all suffer. The suffering is not identical, of course, but when one suffers, we all feel the effects. When one rejoices, we can rejoice with them. We are not isolated, unfeeling robots, but rather members of the one human family.

 In Donne’s meditation, England is the “island” that appears separate from continental Europe, but is not really alone. When I read the passage the other day, I thought of the islands that form Japan, seemingly separate from the rest of Asia, but now, in our day, an important culture and piece of the bigger global community. Here is a more modern version of the passage:

 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 if a manor 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.

Today, we remember the people of Japan in our thoughts and prayers: O God, be with all those who suffer pain, grief, confusion, and the exhaustion of natural catastrophes. Guide and strengthen the arms of those who rescue and minister to the needs of others. Give us the courage to do what we can to support and comfort all those in need. Amen.


 Note: Reuters News Service has a list of relief agencies serving in the crisis in Japan. To view this list and donate, click here.

 Selected sources consulted for this post:

 Link to the source of cherry blossom photo:



One thought on “No Man Is an Island: Praying for Japan

  1. Pastor Paul

    Hi Julie,
    Thanks for your beautiful and moving comments/thoughts. You’re an inspiration and gift. Donne’s poem has long been one of my favorite pieces of literature. Your generous spirit shines through.

    Cheers and God bless,
    Pastor Paul


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s