Neither Island nor Mist
From the Daily Office Lectionary for Friday in the week of Proper 17, Year 1 (Pentecost 14, 2015)
James 4:14 ~ Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
I’m going to have to disagree with James. People are not mere “mists” (atmis is the Greek, also translated as “vapor”) which appear briefly then disappear. Our lives are more substantial than that and when we die we leave much more behind than does the fog.
In the past six days I have received notices of the deaths of four old friends: two clergy colleagues, one former law partner, and a former long-time parishioner. Although none of us had been in close contact for years (although the clergy had recently been my Facebook friends), they impacted my life and many others much more than a mist. My former partner and I did not separate on good terms and if you’d asked us if we were friends, despite our 15 year association in the law, I am certain the answer from either would have been “No.” Nonetheless, his death diminishes me as much as do the others. Their lives have touched mine much more substantially than would have a vapor.
Another Anglican priest expressed this much more eloquently than I can:
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 friend’s
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.
(John Donne, Meditation 17, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions)
Neither island nor mist, but rather human beings of whom God is mindful and whom God seeks out, whom God has made “but little lower than the angels . . . with glory and honor,” and to whom God has given “mastery over the works of [God’s] hands.” (Ps 8:5-7)
You are neither island nor mist, and when you “vanish” the loss will be palpable. Be aware, therefore, of the lives you touch.