William Hazlitt, a 19th century literary critic wrote of Wordsworth’s poetry: “He sits at the center of his own being; he does not waste a thought on others; he thrusts aside all other subjects, all other interests, with impatience, to unfold the precious stones of a mind ever brooding on itself.”
How many of us live such an island life, absorbed with our own affairs and little else? Many are unaffected by what happens outside the narrow borders of their own lives. Many draw a curtain around their cozy little world and are scarcely aware of the difficulties and issues of those around them. Even a nation can live this kind of island life, concerned only with itself and shutting out those who are frantically dealing with starvation, disease, and the ravages of war. In a world of social media and instantaneous “breaking news” on TV, many still live isolated in their own living rooms. They shake their heads and say, “Oh, what a terrible world out there,” without any sympathy, tears, concern, or urge to “feel” the pain and agony of it all. Few feel as Walt Whitman felt, when he wrote, “Agonies are one of my changes of garments. I do not ask the wounded person how he feels. I myself become the wounded person. And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy, walks to his own funeral dressed in his shroud.”
Jesus says that humanity only becomes “whole” when it widens its sympathies and enlarges its territory. Isaiah, long ago, told us that we grow and thrive only when we reach out to take others into “our family.” The Apostle Paul suggests that no man [person} lives for himself alone (or a nation). John Donne tells us “No man is an island, entire unto itself.” “Me first” or “America first” is a contradiction of the concepts of a “neighborhood,” a “global village,” a “world community”—it is a contradiction of the Gospel.
Some mornings in this retirement chapter of my life, I feel like I’m falling into an island lifestyle, “a mind ever brooding on itself.” I resist it and I fight against it by taking time to intercede on behalf of those I know, those I do not know, and for the world as a whole, so full of hurt and breaking hearts. Today, my son, his wife, and my grandson are on their way to spend a week in Appalachia to help fix somebody’s home. In the process of doing that, they will touch and be touched by “their neighbors” in the mountains. It brings great joy to this father’s heart to know that his son and his son’s family refuse to live on an island.
Enlarge the limits of your home
spread wide the curtains of your tent
Let out its ropes to the full
and drive the pegs home (Isa. 54:2, NEB).