I have been traveling lately, with Laura. We went to Michigan for a family wedding, and I got the great, good blessing of being "Uncle Marshall" while sitting next to my wife and my sister-in-law as we watched two wonderful, faithful young people dedicate themselves to the mutual vocation of marriage before God, the Church and the families and friends gathered around them. It put me in mind of weddings I have done, the few I have been a part of and of course, the wedding that Laura and experienced nearly 10 years ago...and for the journey we have shared since. Ups and downs, challenges that led to failures and successes. The vows are true...we have seen each other at our best and our worst, richer and poorer, sick and whole and have known the tidal shifts of what it means to love and to cherish each other in any given moment as those moments accumulate until we are parted by death somewhere out there in the future God has dreamed for us. The marriage rite, in any tradition, seeks to draw us from a particular moment to something that is more eternal and God-centered, and as I ponder 10 years of life with Laura, and look at my niece and her new husband's first weeks and give thanks to a God who will be with them through their own first 10 years.
The pastor talked that afternoon about how in any relationship between any two people of faith there is always a third Person present: God. I confess that one true constant again and again when I counsel people seeking matrimony under my pastoral direction. I strive to remember and live into it as Laura and I live out our lives in our marriage. It is a walk in, and with, faith that enables us to live holy and whole lives in God's presence. Thank God that I get a chance to remember that reality every time I see a young couple (regardless of age!) commit themselves to each other in faith with vows articulated before God and everybody.
I find myself meditating on that ideal as I work through my day, particularly as I prepare to celebrate the marriage of a couple in my parish this coming weekend. New beginnings deserve celebration, and I am blessed to be able to pastor this couple as they affirm a relationship that was, actually, born between them when they were still quite young and comes to fruition at a later season in their lives.
In a world where little seems to offer comfort and assurance of safety and certainty, I see this deep affirmation of relationship being a healthy place to focus. We can't force peace, respect or forbearance on anyone...nor can we engineer solutions to problems anywhere along the spectrum of human life, from personal trials to geo-political conflict, without some sense of mutual care, and forbearance.
People spend a lot of time taking about marriage, and a great deal of energy is going into reserving and protecting it in our culture as something restricted to a union between man and woman, intended for the procreation of children. Still, when I think about the root values of the marital vows, if human beings could see that those vows need not necessarily be restricted to two people in relationship with each other. If we are going to accept marriage as a model of the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Church (this is lifted straight out of the BCP, by the way), then why not allow ourselves to extend that sense of avowed commitment beyond just one other to compass a larger swath of humanity? Because, in the same way I am called as a husband to see in my wife the life of Christ personified and to strive to personify it myself...so also the world needs us to seek and serve Christ in ALL persons.
Perhaps then, just perhaps, we might see some of the conflicts in which dehumanization is used as a tool to ward and divide as what they are, abhorrent to a God who yearns and rejoices in our willingness to enter into union with our Creator and each other. Just perhaps.....