On Trinity Sunday, I was worshipping in Canterbury Cathedral. The preacher was the Cathedral’s Canon Librarian (Click here to hear the sermon). As part of his sermon he used two quotes, one from a famous philosopher and one he had heard repeatedly during his time in Central Africa. I have been musing on how these two quotes work together since that Sunday.
In his sermon he mentioned Descartes, and his famous quote “I think therefore I am” 1. This quote came from his search for something that he could have absolute faith in. He found that everything he had trust in could be doubted, no matter how unlikely. Finally, he found he could not disprove his ability to think and doubt. He concluded that he could trust in his existence because he could think and that could not be taken away.
Descartes is often seen as the father of modern philosophy. His understanding of the world was based on using reason. He believed everyone had the ability to use reason and gain knowledge and discover truth. This has had a huge impact on the world we now live in as we seek to understand it through reason in science, philosophy and experience. But it was not Descartes who struck me.
It was the second quote used, “I am because we are.” The Canon had heard this many times during his twelve years working in Central Africa. It speaks not of individualism but of ‘interconnectedness’. Its emphasis is the importance of those around us in forming the people we are and the person we will become. It speaks to our desire to be in community rather than in isolation.
‘I am because we are’
Descartes taught us that we can seek, question and find truth for ourselves. But, God did not design us to be alone. Rarely is an individual experiment or study enough to prove or disprove a theory and rarely are those experiments carried out by a lone scientist. What we see is teams and groups of people working together to find and demonstrate truth to then share with the world using their personal experiences and expertise. Both the individual and the community are vital.
The main point of the sermon was that the Trinity is the perfect example of “I am because we are.” Father, Spirit and Son have specific attributes but they are one and rely on each other for perfect unity, they cannot exist apart. 2 As part of God’s creation, we learn that we can be individuals and be part of something bigger at the same time.
The Bible tells us how we are to live in a Trinity inspired community. “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” 1 Corinthians 12:12. This verse reminds us, not just that we have different gifts that work together, but that we are designed to be together in community. Each person is crucial to the whole, we need each other.
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.”
Every member of our community brings something vital that makes us more ourselves. This is in part their gifts, but also their personality, ideas and experiences. Positive and loving relationships are central to a community and its individuals thriving. Do we recognise the importance of our church community and at the same time love the individuals that shape it?
It seems like a huge task when faced with a world that advocates individualism, independence and separatism. And yet, appreciating and drawing together a community can be as simple as loving and authentic words to connect us together.
- Is there someone on the fringe (new, busy with a task, chasing children) you could physically go to and start a conversation with over coffee?
- Could you invite someone back for Sunday lunch?
These seemingly small gestures may feel insignificant. But, it is not the size of the gesture that matters, but creating a culture of love and recognition of individuals within our community. It’s showing that ‘I am only because we are’