This weekend I was at a fun party of a wedding on the coast of New Jersey (for Andrew and Jill, congrats again!) The ceremony itself was on the beach (envision many funny moments watching women stagger out in high heels on shifting sand), and afterwards we had delicious seafood and drinks up at the Pier house while the most amazing seven-piece band I’ve ever heard covered everything from Billy Joel to Switchfoot to the Commodores.
We had fun with the VerHage side of the family, met more friends of the bride and groom (including one guy who ended up with a ONE wristband after a Coldplay concert but sadly didn’t know what it was for), learned to appreciate the signature east coast accent, and heard that apparently Bon Jovi and Bruce Springstein live just up the road from where we were. I was also very struck during the ceremony itself when a friend read Kahlil Gibran’s selection, “On Marriage.” I was asked to read this same selection at a good friend’s wedding several years ago, which was my first encounter reading the Lebanese prophet. Several other selections from him also give lyrical and wise insights into human behavior and our intersection with the divine. Here is “On Marriage”:
“Then Almitra spoke again and said, ‘And what of Marriage, master?’
And he answered saying:
You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days.
Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”
This selection captures so much of what I think is missing from many contemporary, faithful analyses of ‘that blessed event’. Gibran poetically and appropriately points to the depth and breadth of the union of marriage, the oneness – the aspect of romantic love which western modern views often stress. But he also points to an understanding that each person in a marriage is fully human, complete, and strong on his/her own, that ultimate strength comes not from a collapsed, codependent leaning on each other, but also from relying on God, the “hand of Life,” and celebrating the interplay of two lives together.
I’ve always felt lucky to be able to say that my marriage teaches me how to be more of myself, as well as how to love and sacrifice for another person. I am particularly disappointed at how the church fails to express this balance of keeping and creating self in a marriage as a facet of love. I would go so far as to say that keeping self while serving/loving another is often a missing piece of teachings on marriage in evangelical culture. In my experience, many (mostly conservatively leaning), theologies encourage women to leave self and redefine their call undeneath another person, as a supportive or helpful role to lead to fulfillment; while many men are taught to embellish or fake self, with the idea of filling Christ’s role of dying for the church as their only biblical role of caring for another. This ignores the full calling of both men and women to respond to what God has planted in their hearts, or their particular giftedness, their own personality and strengths and weaknesses. As the gospel message teaches us, we are each part of the body and should celebrate and fulfill our own unique calling without judging or blocking someone else’s call. And as Paul teaches, we are no longer to rely on the sinful power differences that the world relies on (like Jew or Greek, free or slave, male or female), but we are all made new in Christ, and then equipped through the Holy Spirit to fufill a new life and ultimately a meaningful death as we live toward and into the kingdom of God.
I know this is a big issue for some folks, and for others it’s been an unhealthy or maybe fear-inducing, limiting part of life that biblical misinformation has fueled. (It’s also sadly related to forms of spousal abuse, and at least somewhat linked to why self-professed, ‘born-again’ Christians have reported higher rates of domestic abuse then other groups in the US.) More exegetical information on this and why I observe churches failing at teaching women and men how to be complete individuals, as well as healthy in intimate relationships, is important to mix in this discussion (I will try to write more sometime on the background for this). But basically, gender is an integral part of who we are and I find it just fascinating to learn alongside other women what it means to be a full woman of God – whether married or single, in ministry or outside the church, leading congregations or in lay leadership, or whatever. God gifts each of us uniquely and we are to embody those gifts in all of who we are. Not reacting to judgment or in anger, not trying to be something that we are not, not shying away from what we truly are. “Let there be spaces in your togetherness” says Kahlil. Indeed. Spaces help define togetherness, and help us support and build up one another instead of search for our own definition in that other. Keep self, practice aloneness, honor togetherness, and love others.