I resisted the temptation of making too many comments about the Scottish referendum. It was clearly the decision of the Scottish people and not having, as far as I know, a single Scottish gene in my body I felt that I should tread carefully. But, of course, I had a view and if I tell you that when I woke all of a sudden at 4am on Friday morning and heard on the radio the results beginning to be announced I wept. They were tears of joy though that our United Kingdom had survived. I didn’t know that that was going to be my reaction, but, honestly, it was. I was worried on Thursday and offered my prayers and asked the prayers of St Andrew, St Margaret and St Columba, those great patrons in different ways of the people of Scotland – and that was all I could do.
The whole debate though this last week made me think more about unions and how important they are and what a bad press they can have. Some unions have suffered, or disappeared – the Trade Union movement, though still, thank goodness, still in existance, is nothing like it was in terms of strength and influence before the Thatcher years. The Soviet Union has gone, though recent events suggest not forgotten! But the introduction of equal marriage has really affirmed the place of the ‘union of hearts and lives’ as the marriage service describes the union that is the holy state of Matrimony.
There is one interesting connection between Southwark, Scotland and unions. It was on 12 February 1424 that James I of Scotland married Joan Beaufort in the Priory of St Mary Overie, Southwark. Joan’s uncle was Cardinal Beaufort, the Bishop of Winchester, who lived at Winchester Palace alongside the Priory, the remains of which can still be seen in Clink Street. The wedding feast took place in the great hall of the palace, with its lovely rose window that can still be seen.
James, in prison in London, wrote a poem called ‘The King’s Quair’. In it he describes seeing his beloved Joan.
“And therewith kest I doun myn eye ageyne,
Quhare as I sawe, walking under the tour,
Full secretly new cummyn hir to pleyne,
The fairest or the freschest yonge floure
That ever I sawe, me thoght, before that houre,
For quhich sodayn abate anon astert
The blude of all my body to my hert.”
‘The fairest or the freshest young flower’ – well in the Priory there was a union created between Scotland and England as these two lovers were married. It’s a lovely story but one with political ramifications for today.
But the idea of union is also part of our understanding of God. There are two ways in fact in which this affects our theology. The first is through the doctrine of hypostatic union. The Council of Chalcedon (451) declared that in Christ there are two natures; each retaining its own properties, and together united in one subsistence and in one single person. So in Jesus there is a union between humanity and divinity which is why Mary could be declared Theotokos – Mother of God.
The second union is that which we find in our understanding of the Trinity. There the three persons of God are in such a dynamic, loving, fruitful relationship, one characterised by the term perichoresis. This is a word which describes the divine dance, the rotation, the interrelatedness of the union of the three. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, in Sermon 8 in his Sermons on the Song of Songs describes it in these terms
“If, as is properly understood, the Father is he who kisses, the Son he who is kissed, then it cannot be wrong to see in the kiss the Holy Spirit, for he is the imperturbable peace of the Father and the Son, their unshakable bond, their undivided love, their indivisible unity.”
It brings us back to marriage and James and Joan and it brings us back to our life on these islands. If we can in our relationships personal and national, intimate and political be in such a rotation, a dance, that is dynamic and fruitful, then one never dominates the other, but all are enhanced by being more than one. We see it in Jesus who shows us what God is like, we see it in the Trinity, we see it where relationships are so rich and loving that we are all kissed into deeper reality, deeper existence, divine existence, divine reality.
My prayer for our United Kingdom is that we can be even better for each other and take the decision of the Scottish people as the impetus we need to embody in St Bernard’s phrase “their unshakable bond, their undivided love, their indivisible unity.”
Trinity of love,
may we find
true value in each other,
true life in union,
true love in you.