Imagine a wedding ceremony in which the couple has just exchanged their vows. Now parents, siblings, wedding party, or other friends gather around and circle the couple. One at a time each of these brief petitions is offered for the couple by those who love them most.
Let us pray.
Eternal God, creator and preserver of all life, author of
salvation, and giver of all grace: Look with favor upon the
world you have made, and for which your Son gave his life,
and especially upon this man and this woman whom you
make one flesh in Holy Matrimony. Amen.
Give them wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their
common life, that each may be to the other a strength in need, a
counselor in perplexity, a comfort in sorrow, and a companion
in joy. Amen.
Grant that their wills may be so knit together in your will,
and their spirits in your Spirit, that they may grow in love
and peace with you and one another all the days of their life.
Give them grace, when they hurt each other, to recognize and
acknowledge their fault, and to seek each other’s forgiveness
and yours. Amen.
Make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful
and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement,
forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair. Amen.
Give them such fulfillment of their mutual affection that they
may reach out in love and concern for others. Amen.
Grant that all married persons who have witnessed these
vows may find their lives strengthened and their loyalties
Grant that the bonds of our common humanity, by which all
your children are united one to another, and the living to the
dead, may be so transformed by your grace, that your will may
be done on earth as it is in heaven; where, Gracious God, with Chris
and the Holy Spirit, you live and reign in perfect unity,
now and for ever. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer, page 429
On the occasion of a young couple’s fortieth wedding anniversary, I wrote them this reflection. It riffs on the lines from a prayer in the marriage liturgy, from the Book of Common Prayer. It is to my mind the best prayer in that expansive anthology of prayers.
The prayer I am pointing to is prayed over the couple after their vows and before the blessing. I have filtered it here and modified it for the purposes of this reflection. The practical and spiritual elements this prayer offers is a flavorful reduction of so much wisdom that it can be savored literally for a life-time and still never run out of newness. It is just the right sustenance for marathoners of love.
This is a very specific contemplation aimed at a narrow group of people — those who have been married or together for many multiple decades, life-times even. But after reading it, I thought it could also be of interest to those who have not had that experience for whatever reasons. I am reminded of a 97 year old friend who just passed away and about the conversations I had with her about her husband who had died suddenly over twenty-five years ago. He was still mightily present in her life, and though he crossed the finish line first, she had been running that marathon of love that never ends until she crossed too.
So, for better or worse, here is a reflection with a particular couple in mind, but also for all those couples who have been running this marathon as if it will never end.
PS “Marathon of Hope” owes itself to a poem by Julia Esquivel, “They have threatened us with resurrection”
“Give them wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their common life, that each may be to the other a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity, a comfort in sorrow, and a companion in joy. Amen.”
Wisdom is a gift given not made, unlike knowledge
which is content learned.
Wisdom begins with an open portal
in the heart and mind
and is curried with attentiveness to small presences
sowing the seeds of her fruit.
Devotion is a gift given, one to another,
by the heart dedicating itself
to the simple act
of paying attention.
But this marathon of love that never ends is not just poetry, it requires prose. Nitty-gritty down-to-earth and muddy stuff we walk through together, and sometimes experience alone. “The ordering of our common life” turns out to be a lot of work managing really small elements, many of which often don’t seem to fit together all the time. Here’s what I mean.
You learned who threw their clothes on the floor and who always put them away, and then somehow found a solution. You learned who squeezed the toothpaste in the middle and who rolled it up, and somehow made it work. You learned that putting the toilet seat down is an act of kindness received with gratitude, something you may never of considered before. You decided together whether toilet paper is rolled from the top or the bottom and which shelf would host the soup and peanut butter. The hundreds of teeny tiny decisions and actions that are a part of every day became items in a social contract because you no longer lived alone or for yourself. The little conflicts over these things were worth it because too many unresolved nits become a wound, so you did the work to solve and resolve them again and again and again. Wisdom and devotion guided you in the ordering of your common life.
“A strength in need, a counselor in perplexity, a comfort in sorrow, and a companion in joy.”
A strength in need, a counselor
in perplexity, a comfort
in sorrow, and a
companion in joy —
these are the healers of the heart.
but also offer guidance
about the simple mechanics of listening
and when to touch and how to touch
and even when to hug
or when to make a cup of tea.
Those who run the marathon of love that never ends, discover these healers within and among each other. Without them the marathon that never ends is too long, too hard, too much to bear without the healing and the healers.
You soon discovered you didn’t have the same strengths nor the same wounds or an equal resilience in contending with them in every moment. Becoming a counselor to one another was tough because one of you wanted to fix hurts when the hurt being shared just wanted listening. And one of you started out thinking he or she always had to be the strong one which translated into unequal vulnerability. So you learned how to put your head on the other’s chest and cry, or speak of your hidden wounds in a way you never did out loud before. You discovered that comforting is a highly underrated skill and there are times when that’s all we want — just to be comforted.
By learning how to comfort and be comforted, you then discovered the sublime experience of sharing joy — another thing given not made. While we’ve always known how to make ourselves happy in the moment — with ice cream or walks or music — learning to be open to joy when it visits us without warning or anticipation was the final frontier. Learning to allow joy when it visits and then, somehow learning it can be shared if we trust each other, introduced us to a power so much greater than just the two of us.
“Grant that their wills may be so knit together in your will, and their spirits in your Spirit, that they may grow in love and peace with you and one another all the days of their life. Give them such fulfillment of their mutual affection that they may reach out in love and concern for others. Amen.”
It turns out, and haven’t you had to learn and relearn this over and over, that love without an outward trajectory becomes stale and flaccid within itself. It is a mystery for sure, that something beginning with the manic hunger of romance would evolve so radically. Something about the physics of love requires some part of it to eventually be reaching outward with its grace and gifts in order for it to keep growing. It is almost as if God ordained it so when the Creator-of-all-that-is knit us together. You are still marathoners of love because you haven’t kept it to yourselves, even though there must be so many times you wanted only to retreat. But you haven’t and here you are, and thank you, by the way.
“Give them grace, when they hurt each other, to recognize and acknowledge their fault, and to seek each other’s forgiveness and yours. Amen.”
Now here it is at the end with the hardest of all. First to recognize and then to acknowledge out loud our fault is a profound vulnerability, and a deep act of trust. Peeling open a hurt between us and discovering the grace to see our volition and choices within it, is to re-enter the pain. Oh yeah, and that is how you learned to welcome that skittish bird of forgiveness who lights upon us at just the right moment and brings a song of freedom. The marathoners who keep going are the ones who learned to trust and grab the grace that allows recognition and acknowledgement. Such trust has a gift — it always leaves behind a small gate to enter for the next time it is needed.
“Grant that the bonds of our common humanity, by which all your children are united one to another, and the living to the dead, may be so transformed by your grace, that your will may be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.”
It turns out that you marathoners have been part of Jesus’ strategy for the kingdom of God coming on Earth as it is in heaven, veritable agents of God’s love. Who knew? The very skills and gifts and grit it takes to live the marathon of love that never ends, are the very same required to create the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Wow, something so mundane as an old marriage turns out to be pretty special. It turns out that the gifts you receive aren’t only for you, but also for the whole world around you. Thanks for helping us all out!
Happy 40th (or whichever it is for you) Anniversary!