Non-Religious Christian Spirituality

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love and marriage

In at least one respect, performing a wedding is like delivering a baby. When you go to a doctor because you’re sick or injured, you’re already in a bad way and you hope the doctor will make you better. But when you’re pregnant, because you’re already well, you expect a well result, and if you don’t get it…malpractice insurance for obstetricians is many times higher than for any other MD. For ministers, funerals are safer than weddings for the same reason. People expect a well result at a wedding, and if they don’t get it…well, I don’t know of any malpractice insurance for weddings.

The wedding I performed a couple of weeks ago was picture perfect–beautiful bride, groom in Marine dress blues–all going to plan until I saw something like panic growing in the bride’s eyes, and she whispered that she had to sit down. So we cleared a seat and sat her down in the first row [bride’s side, of course] and continued for a few more lines when the groom suddenly made the best decision of the afternoon. To get back to eye level with his bride, he dropped to one knee, dress sword resting on the carpet. The collective sigh from every woman in the room could have been heard in the next county. No malpractice that day.

The image of that bride’s eyes searching her groom’s face under the cover of his white cap was the icon of romantic love, the pinnacle of many of our aspirations in life. I couldn’t be sure whether bride or groom were hearing what I was trying to tell them that afternoon–do brides and grooms ever really hear anyone on their wedding day?

Contrast the traditional Jewish weddings that Jesus would have attended in the first century that were all arranged in advance by the fathers of groom and bride. Most often, the first time the bride and groom would meet was on their wedding day itself. Such a thought is unthinkable to us today: destroys our sense of fair play, self-determination, free will…no one can or should make such a decision for us. After all, we marry for love.

And yet those ancient unions were much more stable than our own. Why? I think it may be because we believe that love comes before marriage, makes marriage possible–like a single push on a marital bicycle intended to keep us going til death do we part. In their timeless wisdom, ancient Jews believed that love comes not before, but after marriage, that marriage exists in order for us to learn how to love. It has been said that when it comes to marriage, ancient Easterners like the Jews put cold soup on the fire, and it becomes slowly hot, while we modern Westerners put hot soup in a cold plate, and it becomes slowly cold.

If we think there’s any one push that will keep us rolling through decades of relationship, we’ve been misinformed. No intensity of feeling or depth of beautiful eyes can push that hard. There’s too much friction in life; everyone’s got to pedal. When Jesus said, “love your neighbor,” the word he used for love was rehem, a love that gushes from a deep place, as between mother and child or bride and groom. When he said, “love your enemy,” he used a different word, hab–a love that is kindled from dry twigs and dead grasses–carefully tended and nurtured into a roaring blaze. Hab is the love left standing when the emotion of rehem wanes–the only love standing between us and a spouse who would otherwise become enemy over time. Marriage is where we learn how to hab.

I don’t expect arranged marriage to be making a comeback anytime soon. But understanding and celebrating the difference between love we feel before marriage and that which we slowly grow afterward is the best marital malpractice insurance you can’t buy.

[06.17.09]

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