Having attended several weddings this past summer, I have to get something off my chest, and that is the ritual of the “unity candle.” Yes, it is a lovely ritual, but it smacks of incorrect theology when the couple end the ritual by blowing out their individual candles. Every time I see that I have to suppress the urge to rush to the front and relight those candles.
Why? Because marriage does not mean we cease to be our own person; rather, the opposite. Married love is intended to create a oneness in the two-ness, yes, but never at the expense of each individual’s flourishing as a human being.
After 38 years of married life with Jim, I dare to say that we have learned a few things about this, often the hard way. Marriage has invited us to grow in both oneness and two-ness.
In the big scheme of things, ours is a relatively healthy marriage. But Jim and I are complete opposites in just about every imaginable way: in background and family history, in character and relational styles, in interests and professional occupations, not to speak of the fact that we grew up on different continents, with a different mother tongue and in different cultural contexts.
Jim’s spiritual/emotional roots go down deep in the beloved prairie soil of his family farm. I grew up living above the store of my parents with asphalt in both front and back.
I worked off the farm, and needed an active social life. My call to ministry grew steadily over many years of Catholic and ecumenical engagement, until I moved into the Anglican tradition, while Jim has remained Roman Catholic.
We agreed on the big stuff; it was the little stuff that created regular havoc. Yet each time relational disaster loomed, we dug deep into our marital vows to find our unity. Thus an intricate web has woven itself of honouring the other in his/her uniqueness as fully as we possibly could, and concretely supporting that uniqueness even at personal cost, while claiming the union in married love.
The Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin calls this relational movement an evolutionary dance present in all living things. He discovered a fascinating paradox, i.e. that union/communion grows deeper and stronger in and through differentiation: “The more closely an entity or group is united, the more differentiated its parts become” (Together in Christ, page 28).
As couples work through the challenges and tensions in their common life, they grow an increasing emotional, spiritual, intellectual capacity for compassion and joy, forgiveness and generosity. When a couple is most fully in love, De Chardin claimed, the partners become most fully themselves. Looking to our 38 years of marriage, I can now see this as true.
What if we applied De Chardin’s “evolutionary dance” analogy to the diverse Christian traditions? As this Reformation 500 commemoration year draws to a close, we can at least say that we have come a long way since the hostile exchanges in the 16th century.
What began as reasons for parting company have, over time, developed as unique strengths in each tradition, making us realize that we truly need one another to embody the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Can we see our baptismal vows on par with marriage vows, bonding us to one another in the Body of Christ? Can we learn to dig deep into these vows so our differences can be held in unity by an ever-deeper abiding love and regard for one another, mirroring the communion of the Trinity itself?
Fyodor Dostoevsky said poignantly: love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams. While we love Jesus and want to be his disciples, all of us fail miserably, and often, at growing this ever deeper love.
It seems easier to turn our backs on one another and to see differentiation as insurmountable division. It seems easier to part company, to limit eucharistic hospitality, and to feed mutual distrust.
While historic barriers between churches are slowly dissolving, healing even, new ones are emerging. There is no shortage of conflict and dispute in most marriages, as in our diverse church family. Yet each painful crisis continues to come with the same choice: grow deeper in love or part ways. Which will it be today?
Rev. Marie-Louise Ternier is now an Anglican deacon, serving the Anglican and Lutheran parishes in Watrous, SK. In her spare time she serves on the programming team at Queen’s House in Saskatoon. Marie-Louise is a published author and spiritual director, retreat leader and conference speaker. This column is co-published with the Saskatchewan Anglican. Marie-Louise blogs at http://graceatsixty.wordpress.com