Thursday, January 20, 2011

Marriage as a Spiritual Journey, and a Leap of Faith

I have been thinking a lot about marriage, and re-marriage, lately. Marriage is a very challenging spiritual discipline, a leap of faith, though very few people see it in this light. Many see marriage as a romantic adventure, or as a commitment to raise a family--both good and necessary components of marriage. But there is yet another dimension--what Christians call agape, or selfless Love. Agape Love is the glue that keeps a marriage together and strong, and makes it fulfilling and beautiful, for the long haul, "until death do us part," and beyond.

Today over half of marriages in the USA end in divorce, leaving both parties traumatized and wary of love. Those who marry a second time have a 65% divorce rate, and the rate is even higher for third timers. Yet people keep trying, hoping against hope. As Dr. Johnson said, "Marriage is the triumph of hope over experience."

Many people experience romantic love and have sex, and then bear and raise children; and if they are lucky, their relationship evolves into something like friendship. But few discover their soul mates and experience what it means to love with one's whole heart and soul.

Over the past few months, I have talked to quite a number of women and very few have a clue about what it means to love and be loved deeply. Those who have an inkling of what it means are for the most part widows who have had a relationship similar to the one I had with my wife of blessed memory. It's been very precious to share memories and insights with those who know what it's like to be married to one's best friend and soul mate.

Last night, I opened the journal that my wife of blessed memory kept during the year before she passed. Her words, written on November 20, 2008, describe beautifully and simply what a marriage of true minds (and hearts) is all about. Since this experience is such a rarity, and yet one that so many wish to have, I feel her testimony is worth sharing

"Anthony and I had a very special time a the end of today sharing our feelings of deep love and appreciation for each other! At our cancer support groups this evening we realized that we are at a very different level of healing than the other members of the group. Most of them are still struggling with emotional healing. Anthony's caregivers' group especially are struggling to care for traditional husbands who show little appreciation for their hard work. Emotional upheavals, blame, hurt feelings and frustration is the pattern of their struggle to give care.

"We remember those times in our marriage when we had those deep painful struggles as well. And as we talked last night, we realized that our practice of constant words and expressions of appreciation and thanks to each other over the years has healed the deep pain felt by most when their needs have not been met. In fact, we spend most of our energy trying to meet meet other's needs. That is in fact our greatest goal, to serve each other with love. Whatever we give like this we receive as much back.

"Anthony reminded us of the words of St Thomas a Kempis on how to live a Christian life: 1) Seek to serve others 2) Seek to work in the humblest place.

"Then we laughed at the reaction our support group would have to this advice--they'd think we were hopelessly out of touch with 'reality,' living in a romantic dream world.

"But it's really the 'fullness of life' world that God created us to live in! We both feel blessed to have found a life partner who was eager to work on emotional feelings, healing of mind and spirit through the years. It is miraculous when two people of like mind find each other."


Living the 'fullness of life' with one's partner, even in the face of death, is a miracle too deep for words. But I hope these words help us to see that such a marriage is not rocket science, it simply requires constant practice and care, like learning to sing or to dance or to play a musical instrument. I am grateful to Kathleen for taking the time to practice this sacred dance with me, and to help us both live in harmony with the Spirit who created us to love and be loved forever.

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