Sermon, 5 March 2005
Based on a thought for the day by the Revd Dr Giles Fraser
Perhaps the best known philosophical sound bite is Rene Descartes’ ‘Cogito ergo sum’, ‘I think therefore I am’. What Descartes was trying to do was find some form of knowledge that it’s absolutely impossible to doubt. We can doubt the existence of the outside world or the existence of other people, he argued. After all, we could be dreaming or some higher power could be misleading us. But it’s not possible to doubt that, at the centre of everything, there is some ‘me’ doing the thinking or the doubting. Thus, Descartes concludes, the only thing we can know for sure is that I exist.
This reasoning has become a very influential trap for modern western thought. For in locating certainty within the individual, philosophers have found it fiendishly difficult to describe any sort of bridge that links my own personal reality to the reality of other people. So we become stranded within ourselves, the private self becomes some sort of prison, with the solitary ‘I’ caught deep within. Poets and writers have described this modern condition as one of alienation. They speak of our yearning to find a sense of reality that connects us back up with each other and the world in which we live.
Today is Mothering Sunday. Once we have cleared the decks of hype and sentimentality, we are left to reflect upon the simple intimacy of mother and child. Think about a mother breast-feeding her baby – this isn’t two separate individuals desperately trying to infer the reality of each other. That’s surely why Henry Moore often carved his Mother and Child sculptures out of a single piece of stone. No, the intimacy of the mother feeding her child suggests that the primary reality is not autonomous selves struggling to find each other, but rather that relationship exists prior to a sense of separate selfhood.
Relationship, our fundamental connectedness: these things come first.
For Christians, loving relatedness is the very heart of reality. It’s what binds mother and child as one, just as it binds Father, Son and Holy Spirit as one. For the Trinity is not three separate units trying unconvincingly to squeeze into oneness. Rather, it’s a way of saying that God is fundamentally relational. Simply put: God is the love that binds all things together. And if this is right, then we are not separate units struggling to make contact, but like the mother and child, we are carved from a single piece of stone.
For this reason, we look beyond the four walls of this church and into the world, why yesterday we relaunched the tradition of selling fairly traded goods in this parish with a greatly successful coffee morning and had the opportunity to reflect on how we are all, through our intimacy with Christ, made into one, into the body of Christ. Amen.