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Philip Yancey – A Companion in Crisis: A Modern Paraphrase of John Donne’s Devotions

Darton, Longman & Todd


ISBN 978 913657 826

153 pages

For Philip Yancey this paraphrase was a labour of love during the early stages of the pandemic. Having been a fan of John Donne for most of his life, but finding that many of friends found his work difficult to read, he decided to try and make it more accessible.

Devotions was written by Donne while he was suffering in self-solation, sick with bubonic plague. Yancey immediately saw the parallels with life under the shadow of this early 21st plague. These 23 pieces trace the stages of his illness. Each devotion is broken up into three sections: narrative, reflection and prayer. Donne’s Devotions invite us into a believer’s struggle with isolation, illness and death; the words are raw, deep and penetrating.

Yancey has sensitively paraphrased this work, preserving much of what Donne has written, but making it more accessible to the average reader.

Devotions contains some of Donne’s most memorable lines:

“No man is an island, entire of itself ... 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.” 

We still find it difficult to talk about suffering and death. Yet the pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine have forced us to remove the subjects from the further reaches of our mind and face them openly. Books like this can help us with that process and provide powerful prayer-shaped resources to help us learn how to live and how to die.

Yancey tops and tails this book with reflections on his own writing career. This has often concentrated on the tough questions that are asked by a world pock-marked with doubt, pain and suffering. Clearly Donne’s Devotions have contributed to his thinking about how to find consolation in the deep valleys of human life.

John Woods is a writer and Bible teacher based in West Sussex. He is Director of Training at the School of Preachers in Riga, Latvia

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