On occasion, I stop at my favorite coffee shop on my way to work. But when I drove there not too long ago I saw upside-down chairs on all the tables. Later that week, I stripped my office and turned off the light, not knowing when I’d be back. My church too is closed, and I can now only see it dimly through my computer screen.
I’m at home. Indefinitely. While I can leave to buy essentials, the stay-at-home order is meant to protect me from others as well as it is to protect others from me. It is wise to stay in; the threat of COVID-19 is as real as it is dangerous. The knowledge that I shouldn’t leave, and the lack of knowledge as to how long this will last, has made me feel claustrophobic in my own home. When I consider the coronavirus, when I consider how I can’t go place I would like to go, my own walls transform into prison gates.
But an old poet taught me that what I choose to mediate on can alter my present experience. He pointed me away from meditating on what I fear and what I lack and pointed me toward contemplating a greater reality: love.
John Donne on Love
If you know of John Donne, it may be from his famous sonnet Death, be not proud. But I want to briefly discuss his poem The Sunne Rising. This poem is an apostrophe—meaning it is a speech addressed to something, usually an inanimate thing. In this poem, the sun has risen, waking up a couple. The man, who is the archetypal lover, responds to the sun with a feisty, funny monologue chiding the sun for calling to them.
In one part of the poem the speaker tries to convince the sun that it can go away because it has already accomplished its duty. The sun is meant to warm the world, and the speaker argues that he and his lover are the world:
She is all states, and all Princes, I,
Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us, compared to this,
All honor’s mimicry; All wealth alchemy.
You sun are half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus.
Thine age asks ease, and since your duties are
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and you are everywhere,
This bed your center is, these walls, your sphere.
He says—since we are lovers, we are everything! Any honor that’s out there mimics us. Any wealth that is out there is artificial. The speaker insults the sun, calling him old, and offers him a way out of having to work all day. He says, You’ve shone into our room, and this room is not only the center of the world but also the whole world itself.
Love Alters our Experience of Space
If your reaction to this poem is that you think the speaker is wrong, then you are on the right track to understanding it. He is not suggesting that he really thinks his room is the center of the universe, or that every Prince in the world reflects his image, but that love makes him feel that way.
For the speaker, love brings unparalleled emphasis to where he is. If love is there, then that place is the whole world to him. Consider then the power of love, love is able to overcome feelings of what we lack—wealth, honor, and the ability to travel—and it helps us to not only be content but over-joyous with our own home.
And so love is able to alter our experience of space, says John Donne. Perhaps Paul felt this reality when he was in his prison cell, learning to be content in all things. Perhaps Daniel felt this when he was trapped in the lion’s den. Perhaps John experienced this when he was exiled to Patmos. Perhaps Noah experienced this when he rode on the Ark.
I’m thankful I reread this poem by Donne, at least for how it caused me to reflect on love and how meditating on love might alter my experience of reality. And love is not just a general, vague, abstract concept—its power comes from a person. As Christians, we know love is located in the character of God himself. So let me turn to Scripture to meditate on one more wonderful way meditating on love alters our present.
Love Alters our Experience of Time
1 John 4:15–17 reads,
“Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. . . . as he is so also are we in this world.” So we see here the chain of events: First, we confess that Jesus is the Son of God. Second, we gain fellowship with God. And as a result of this, we reflect God’s image to the world.
One memorable line about God is from Psalm 90:4:
“For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past.”
And this is echoed in 2 Peter 3:8–9:
“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise vas some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
How is it that for God that a thousand years can be like one day? It is a mystery, and of course it is meant to illustrate just how different God is from us. Surely though, it has great connection to John’s statement that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). Consider the full passage from Peter quoted above—Peter is describing God’s patience because God wishes that all should reach repentance. This is an expression of his love for us!
Godly love—reflecting God’s nature, stemming from faith in Jesus Christ—is able to alter our experience of time. And thank God for that. We do not know how long we will be in our homes; we do not know how long we will be kept from enjoying our church community in person. But love is able to shrink our experience of time so that the wait does not crush us.
Of course, Jacob knew this quite well. For he worked for years and years in order to have Rachel as his wife. And what does Genesis say about this?
“Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her” (Genesis 29:20)
Meditate on Love While You’re Stuck at Home
If you are feeling confined in your own home, if you are wishing you could be out doing the things your normally do, or if you are weighed down by the indefinite length of time this will last, meditate on love. Love will bless your experience of space and will bless your experience of time.
How do we meditate on love? By meditating on the person who is love: God. And how do we know this love? Through the work of Jesus Christ, who gave his life to be the propitiation of our sins. And if you are able to love in this seasons, thank the Lord for that, because we would not be able to love or know love without him:
“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
 I have modernized the language to make this reading more accessible.