Death Is Only a Horizon

I did a funeral today for a lovely lady named Eleanor Wiley.  In my remarks I quoted an old poem that reads:

We give them back to Thee, dear Lord, who gavest them to us; yet as Thou dost not lose them in giving, so we have not lost them by their return. Not as the world giveth, givest Thou, O Lover of Souls. What Thou gavest, Thou takest not away, for what is Thine is ours always if we are Thine. And Life is eternal and Love is immortal, and death is only an horizon, and an horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.*

I picked up on that last line and agreed that life is eternal.  Jesus said that “whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  Eleanor was one of those “whosoevers,” and I believe she has already laid claim to her everlasting life.  I also agreed that love is immortal.  I asked Eleanor’s husband, Herb, if he loved her less today than before she died and he said, “No, of course not!”  That’s because his love for her is still alive and well.  It is stronger than death.  Finally I agreed that death is only a horizon, and a horizon is nothing but the limit of our sight.  I said it like this:

If you stand on the shore long enough and watch a cruise ship sail out to sea, there comes a time when you can’t see it anymore.  It sails beyond that curve in the earth’s surface that obscures it from your sight.  It doesn’t mean that it isn’t there; it only means that you can’t see it any longer.  For those people on board life is going on as it rarely does on shore, with fine dining and ballroom dancing and moonlit walks on the promenade deck.   In her death Eleanor Wiley has sailed beyond the horizon.  We can’t see her anymore, but that doesn’t mean her life isn’t going on.  It is.  Although I have a feeling that as we gather here this morning to mourn her death she is standing at the stern of that ship, looking back toward the shore, standing on tiptoe and waving her handkerchief to let us know that she’s all right—that death is only a horizon, and a horizon is nothing but the limit of our sight.

Bon Voyage, Eleanor!



*In my research, I was not able to come up with the undisputed author of this poem.  While most of my sources cite Rossiter Raymond, people who claim to know better say it was William Penn.

9 thoughts on “Death Is Only a Horizon

  1. Jim,

    Thank you for this beautiful posting. Having lost some dear love ones over the years, it helps to think of death as it is presented in the poem by Rossiter W. Raymond.

  2. Thanks Jim! Good words for us to remember. Thinking about the metaphor of the cruise ship makes me feel like life after death will be very joyfull! The Great Adventure awaits for each of us! Now, if we can just hang on, get-along, and have a little faith!

  3. What a story to picture as passing beyond the horizon. It tends to remove the finality of death until “we all get to heaven…” The “horizon” places a temporary parting from loved ones remaining, bringing a greater focus to eternal life.

  4. Is not this “old poem” you quoted not the creation of William Penn (founder of the Quakers)?
    Check it out for yourselves online, by looking up “Prayers for the dead; William Penn”

  5. That prayer is a hard one to nail down. It is attributed to a number of different authors, including William Penn, but as best I can tell, it began with Rossiter Raymond, the author I cited in this piece. Thanks for checking!

  6. Paul: Thanks for this. I have done a good bit of research on the Internet, and although Penn’s name was mentioned as a possible source for this prayer, I didn’t find that agreement reached the level of consensus. I will be happy to add a footnote.

  7. I am very surprised at your lack of research…

    This was written almost 200 years before Rossiter Raymond was born. These words, and many others in Raymond’s poem “Death is Only an Horizon” are first recorded in a prayer written by William Penn (1644-1718).

    This prayer is cited in the NSW Council of Churches Selected Christian Prayers, PR0061.

    Fr. Bede Jarrett, O.P. also lists this prayer as a prayer of his, but he credits
    “prayer written by William Penn, 1644-1718”.

    The prayer written by William Penn and documented by the two places listed is as follows:

    “We give them back to thee, dear Lord, who gavest them to us. Yet as thou didst not lose them in giving, so we have not lost them by their return. What thou gavest thou takest not away, O Lover of souls; for what is thine is ours also if we are thine. And life is eternal and love is immortal, and death is only an horizon, and an horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight. Lift us up, strong Son of God, that we may see further; cleanse our eyes that we may see more clearly; and draw us closer to thyself that we may know ourselves to be nearer to our loved ones who are with thee. And while thou dost prepare for us, prepare us also for that happy place, that where they are and thou art, we too may be for evermore.”

    It appears that many of the lines of this prayer are included in Raymond’s poem “Death is Only an Horizon.” In contrast, other than references on the internet, no definitive work or reference by Raymond has come to light that includes HIS version of the poem.

  8. we all cant avoid death but we can love and value our life more while living. having the joy with our friend and seeing him passing away just like that is very difficult to accept but there is not much we can do to stop it from happening. all we can do is just be happy and live on and be grateful for our lives that its a gift and we must feel happy for him that he is going to a different place where we treasure the memories forever that we had together once. learn to LET go! Life must go on….

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