“No man is an island,” John Donne observed. Similarly, former Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “No man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another; through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone.”
In other words, we’re all in this together. God is the Island, who draws us into the Divine Presence. As we draw near to God, we become closer to one another. Calling to mind an image used by Abba Dorotheos of Gaza (6th century monk and hermit), imagine a large wheel with many spokes. God is the hub--or center--of the wheel, while each of us stands along the circumference. If we each turn toward God and move toward the hub along the spokes (let’s say these represent Scripture, prayer, a life of faith, etc.), two things simultaneously occur as the spokes gradually converge on the hub. As we draw closer to God, we become closer to one another. And, as we become closer to one another, we become closer to God. Of course, the reverse is also true. The farther we travel away from God along a spoke, the farther we become from those on the other spokes.
But it’s not so easy to accomplish in practice, as we all know. People have difficulty being together at times—whether in a family, neighborhood, workplace, faith community, city, or country. We’re all different, and we’re all at different points on that wheel—if we’re on it at all. The whole thing hinges, it seems, on turning toward God and genuinely moving toward God through Scripture, prayer, a life of faith, etc. The rest will take care of itself. We have difficulty doing this because at some point along our individual “spoke” or path to God, we tend to stall. “OK, that’s far enough,” we seem to say. We become our own little hub, unconnected with anything, really, and certainly not helping the overall wheel’s design.
It’s a great consolation (and a challenge) that the early Christians struggled with this as well. The New Testament letters are replete with descriptions of communities torn by all sorts of divisions and disputes. “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ,” Paul admonishes the Galatians (6:2). “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive,” the Letter to the Colossians states (3:13).
We are to bear with and forgive one another. Jesus is pretty clear on that, too—many times over. Not easy, but true. If we truly take to heart what we’ve read or heard in Scripture, and then actually apply it to everyday situations and act on it, we will feel closer both to God and to our neighbor. But if we stall along the spoke and become our own little hub, our own island, we will invariably feel unconnected to either, and wobbling off course.
The key, as mentioned, is taking that first step—turning toward God, and then moving forward. It seems to get easier as long as we keep moving. Scripture provides the fuel for that motion. If we have the fuel (desire), the Holy Spirit will map out plenty of opportunities to keep the wheel of love turning around the Love of God.