One of the most startling observations in the Atlantic article about marriage (referred to in Part One of this Rumination) is the author’s charge that married couples are wrapped up in each other and their own little world, not inclined to give freely of themselves. To be sure, one of the reasons often given for a celibate life is the ability to drop everything and rush to the aid of whoever needs it. There is something to be said for that. However, though the primary purpose of marriage remains the raising of the next generation, it is quite common to see married couples who, after the children leave the nest, devote themselves to community and church. After retirement, married couples are able to offer their leisure time to others and to their volunteer work—and a good many do just that. In the process they offer themselves as models of a life of mutual service. The Book of Common Prayer contains these words for a newly married couple:
O God, you have so consecrated the covenant of marriage that in it is represented the spiritual unity between Christ and his Church: Send therefore your blessing upon these your servants, that they may so love, honor, and cherish each other that their home may be a haven of blessing and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
This prayer contains a capsule version of the theology of the covenant (mentioned in the first installment of this Rumination about marriage) which is so vital for the understanding of Holy Matrimony, but so rarely expounded in an intentional and consistent way in the churches. This teaching is what we need if marriage is to be strengthened. What we hear of marriage in our culture is largely related to the expenditure of outrageous sums of money on wedding ceremonies (the Kim Kardashian fiasco registering as a sort of cosmic joke on us all). We need to hear teaching from our spiritual leaders that will be a strong alternative to these distortions. (The only wedding ceremony that I ever really enjoyed performing was minuscule, held in the chancel of the church with only the family and closest friends present. The bride wore a simple suit and the luncheon afterward was not extravagant, but the whole thing was radiantly joyful. The marriage remains steady and solid, with two brilliantly successful college-age offspring.)
As far as I can recall, I have seen only one movie that is devoted to showing a married couple whose home is “a haven of blessing and of peace.” That “small” English movie, called Another Year, came and went from independent movie houses very rapidly in spite of excellent reviews; the average moviegoer today would not have the patience for it. It depicts a middle-aged, rather homely married couple who have two careers, an unpretentious house, a grown son who loves them—and they love each other. They work together in their community garden and their door is always open to a host of friends and hangers-on. They are constantly cooking or grilling meals for these guests. In particular, they are endlessly patient (though not foolishly so) with a troubled young woman who has lost her way in life and shows up regularly at their doorstep. I remember the details of this little film better than those of a hundred thrill-a-minute movies, but I don’t think my grandchildren would sit through it; such are the challenges we face today.
I would hardly be able to count the numbers of married couples who have made a tremendous difference in my life and in the lives of our daughters. To walk into the front door of these couples’ homes was to shut out chaos, dysfunction, and stress and find, indeed, an oasis of “blessing and peace”–only for a time, to be sure, but nevertheless a soul-strengthening stage along the way. Only a few days ago I met an elderly couple who shyly but proudly told me that every Sunday they greeted and welcomed all the newcomers in their church. I later learned that when they were younger they had both been leaders in parish governance and in church maintenance; now that they are in frail health they are still serving. The author of the Atlantic article seems wilfully to have closed her eyes against such example.
Speaking from personal experience, it is quite likely that such marriages have endured intense periods of challenge and disruption. Very few marriages are truly tranquil for decades. The face of a marriage presented to the world never tells the whole story. Yet it is precisely the struggle to persevere in the midst of extreme provocation that mirrors the faithfulness of God.
Part Three of this Rumination on marriage will come along in due course.
And here is a capsule review of Another Year: