Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, by John Donne

III. Decubitus sequitur tandem.

The patient takes his bed.

III. Meditation.

We attribute but one privilege and advantage to man’s body above other moving creatures, that he is not, as others, grovelling, but of an erect, of an upright, form naturally built and disposed to the contemplation of heaven. Indeed it is a thankful form, and recompenses that soul, which gives it, with carrying that soul so many feet higher towards heaven. Other creatures look to the earth; and even that is no unfit object, no unfit contemplation for man, for thither he must come; but because man is not to stay there, as other creatures are, man in his natural form is carried to the contemplation of that place which is his home, heaven. This is man’s prerogative; but what state hath he in this dignity? A fever can fillip him down, a fever can depose him; a fever can bring that head, which yesterday carried a crown of gold five feet towards a crown of glory, as low as his own foot to-day. When God came to breathe into man the breath of life, he found him flat upon the ground; when he comes to withdraw that breath from him again, he prepares him to it by laying him flat upon his bed. Scarce any prison so close that affords not the prisoner two or three steps. The anchorites that barked themselves up in hollow trees and immured themselves in hollow walls, that perverse man that barrelled himself in a tub, all could stand or sit, and enjoy some change of posture. A sick bed is a grave, and all that the patient says there is but a varying of his own epitaph. Every night’s bed is a type of the grave; at night we tell our servants at what hour we will rise, here we cannot tell ourselves at what day, what week, what month. Here the head lies as low as the foot; the head of the people as low as they whom those feet trod upon; and that hand that signed pardons is too weak to beg his own, if he might have it for lifting up that hand. Strange fetters to the feet, strange manacles to the hands, when the feet and hands are bound so much the faster, by how much the cords are slacker; so much the less able to do their offices, by how much more the sinews and ligaments are the looser. In the grave I may speak through the stones, in the voice of my friends, and in the accents of those words which their love may afford my memory; here I am mine own ghost, and rather affright my beholders than instruct them; they conceive the worst of me now, and yet fear worse; they give me for dead now, and yet wonder how I do when they wake at midnight, and ask how I do to-morrow. Miserable, and (though common to all) inhuman posture, where I must practise my lying in the grave by lying still, and not practise my resurrection by rising any more.

III. Expostulation.

My God and my Jesus, my Lord and my Christ, my strength and my salvation, I hear thee, and I hearken to thee, when thou rebukest thy disciples, for rebuking them who brought children to thee; Suffer little children to come to me, sayest thou.12 Is there a verier child than I am now? I cannot say, with thy servant Jeremy, Lord, I am a child, and cannot speak; but, O Lord, I am a sucking child, and cannot eat; a creeping child, and cannot go; how shall I come to thee? Whither shall I come to thee? To this bed? I have this weak and childish frowardness too, I cannot sit up, and yet am loth to go to bed. Shall I find thee in bed? Oh, have I always done so? The bed is not ordinarily thy scene, thy climate: Lord, dost thou not accuse me, dost thou not reproach to me my former sins, when thou layest me upon this bed? Is not this to hang a man at his own door, to lay him sick in his own bed of wantonness? When thou chidest us by thy prophet for lying in beds of ivory13, is not thine anger vented; not till thou changest our beds of ivory into beds of ebony? David swears unto thee, that he will not go up into his bed, till he had built thee a house.14 To go up into the bed denotes strength, and promises ease; but when thou sayest, that thou wilt cast Jezebel into a bed, thou makest thine own comment upon that; thou callest the bed tribulation, great tribulation.15 How shall they come to thee whom thou hast nailed to their bed? Thou art in the congregation, and I in a solitude: when the centurion’s servant lay sick at home,16 his master was fain to come to Christ; the sick man could not. Their friend lay sick of the palsy, and the four charitable men were fain to bring him to Christ; he could not come.17 Peter’s wife’s mother lay sick of a fever, and Christ came to her; she could not come to him.18 My friends may carry me home to thee, in their prayers in the congregation; thou must come home to me in the visitation of thy Spirit, and in the seal of thy sacrament. But when I am cast into this bed my slack sinews are iron fetters, and those thin sheets iron doors upon me; and, Lord, I have loved the habitation of thine house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth.19 I lie here and say, Blessed are they that dwell in thy house;20 but I cannot say, I will come into thy house; I may say, In thy fear will I worship towards thy holy temple;21 but I cannot say in thy holy temple. And, Lord, the zeal of thy house eats me up,22 as fast as my fever; it is not a recusancy, for I would come, but it is an excommunication, I must not. But, Lord, thou art Lord of hosts, and lovest action; why callest thou me from my calling? In the grave no man shall praise thee; in the door of the grave, this sick bed, no man shall hear me praise thee. Thou hast not opened my lips that my mouth might show thee thy praise, but that my mouth might show forth thy praise. But thine apostle’s fear takes hold of me, that when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway;23 and therefore am I cast down, that I might not be cast away. Thou couldst take me by the head, as thou didst Habbakuk, and carry me so; by a chariot, as thou didst Elijah,24 and carry me so; but thou carriest me thine own private way, the way by which thou carriedst thy Son, who first lay upon the earth and prayed, and then had his exaltation, as himself calls his crucifying; and first descended into hell, and then had his ascension. There is another station (indeed neither are stations but prostrations) lower than this bed; to-morrow I may be laid one story lower, upon the floor, the face of the earth; and next day another story, in the grave, the womb of the earth. As yet God suspends me between heaven and earth, as a meteor; and I am not in heaven because an earthly body clogs me, and I am not in the earth because a heavenly soul sustains me. And it is thine own law, O God, that if a man be smitten so by another, as that he keep his bed, though he die not, he that hurt him must take care of his healing, and recompense him25. Thy hand strikes me into this bed; and therefore, if I rise again, thou wilt be my recompense all the days of my life, in making the memory of this sickness beneficial to me; and if my body fall yet lower, thou wilt take my soul out of this bath, and present it to thy Father, washed again, and again, and again, in thine own tears, in thine own sweat, in thine own blood.

III. Prayer.

O most mighty and most merciful God, who, though thou have taken me off of my feet, hast not taken me off of my foundation, which is thyself; who, though thou have removed me from that upright form in which I could stand and see thy throne, the heavens, yet hast not removed from me that light by which I can lie and see thyself; who, though thou have weakened my bodily knees, that they cannot bow to thee, hast yet left me the knees of my heart; which are bowed unto thee evermore; as thou hast made this bed thine altar, make me thy sacrifice; and as thou makest thy Son Christ Jesus the priest, so make me his deacon, to minister to him in a cheerful surrender of my body and soul to thy pleasure, by his hands. I come unto thee, O God, my God, I come unto thee, so as I can come, I come to thee, by embracing thy coming to me, I come in the confidence, and in the application of thy servant David’s promise, that thou wilt make all my bed in my sickness;26 all my bed; that which way soever I turn, I may turn to thee; and as I feel thy hand upon all my body, so I may find it upon all my bed, and see all my corrections, and all my refreshings to flow from one and the same, and all from thy hand. As thou hast made these feathers thorns, in the sharpness of this sickness, so, Lord, make these thorns feathers again, feathers of thy dove, in the peace of conscience, and in a holy recourse to thine ark, to the instruments of true comfort, in thy institutions and in the ordinances of thy church. Forget my bed, O Lord, as it hath been a bed of sloth, and worse than sloth; take me not, O Lord, at this advantage, to terrify my soul with saying, Now I have met thee there where thou hast so often departed from me; but having burnt up that bed by these vehement heats, and washed that bed in these abundant sweats, make my bed again, O Lord, and enable me, according to thy command, to commune with mine own heart upon my bed, and be still27; to provide a bed for all my former sins whilst I lie upon this bed, and a grave for my sins before I come to my grave; and when I have deposited them in the wounds of thy Son, to rest in that assurance, that my conscience is discharged from further anxiety, and my soul from further danger, and my memory from further calumny. Do this, O Lord, for his sake, who did and suffered so much, that thou mightest, as well in thy justice as in thy mercy, do it for me, thy Son, our Saviour, Christ Jesus.

12 Matt. xix. 13.

13 Amos, vi. 4.

14 Psalm cxxxii. 3.

15 Rev. ii. 22.

16 Matt. viii. 6.

17 Matt. viii. 4.

18 Matt. viii. 14.

19 Psalm xxvi. 8.

20 Psalm lxxxiv. 4.

21 Psalm v. 7.

22 Psalm lxix. 9.

23 1 Cor. ix. 27.

24 2 Kings, ii. 11.

25 Exodus, xxi. 18.

26 Psalm xli. 3.

27 Psalm iv. 4.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37