As I have mentioned before, my parents are divorcing. And as I have mentioned before, I have not ever been married. The first statement has a lot to do with the second. I was chatting with a friend tonight; funny how conversations become mirrors...
We were discussing my belief that I would not have been able to be in any kind of healthy relationship until I was about 32 or 33. I told him that my strongest prayers about marriage and children have always been prayers of negation: that I would much rather have a broken heart outside of marriage than live with a broken heart inside one. My sweet, jaded conversation partner (who is also resolutely single) was quick to assure me me that most marriages are this way.
That might be true. But for my whole life, I've always believed that marriages do not have to be that way. I got home after our chat and wondered... How is it that I have such a high view of marriage? Nothing in my background or experiences would suggest that a high view of marriage would be natural for me.
How do I have such a high view of marriage?
There are two types of theology within Christendom; non-sacramental and sacramental. I came from a distinctly non-sacramental theology, and have moved into a sacramental one. One of the sacraments of the Church is marriage.
When I was younger (and non-sacramental in my theology) , the teaching on marriage that inscribed itself most on my mind and heart was Ephesians 5:25-33: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.(Emphases mine.)
How is this possible for a human man? It's NOT!! But I always saw this as a picture, an icon. A very, very beautiful one. Orthodoxy defines sacraments as "vessels of the mystical participation in divine grace
of mankind. In a general sense, the Orthodox Church considers
everything which is in and of the Church as sacramental or mystical.
The sacraments, like the Church, are both visible and invisible.
In every sacrament there is a combination of an outward visible sign
with an inward spiritual grace. Saint John Chrysostom wrote that they are called mysteries because what we believe is not the
same as what we see; instead, we see one thing and believe another.
The sacraments are personal — they are the means whereby God’s
grace is appropriated to each individual Christian. In most of the
sacraments, the priest mentions the Christian name of each person as he administers the sacrament." (orthodoxwiki.org)
A sacrament is an outward, physical sign of an inward work that God is doing; that only God can do. Baptism is for remission of sins. Communion is Christ. Marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church. How is that possible??
What I realized tonight is that marriage was my first sacrament, my first belief in sacramental theology. I see quite clearly that no one, no one can live in marriage well. Some movie I saw once said; "We are all used car salesmen when it comes to love." And it's true. But I loved the beauty in this scripture so much that I believed; that I believe. I knew even as a teenager that it would take more of me than I have to be married. To my mind, for anyone to be married well would take strength, love, and grace from beyond oneself. But I do believe that two people can (and do) live together in sacramental, redemptive ways.
And so irony of all ironies, marriage has served me well. Always has. The phenomenon of marriage and the testimony about marriage has caused me to be the kind of person who "believe(s) as many as six impossible things before breakfast," like the Queen in Alice in Wonderland. (Wonderland is another place the led to a looking glass, much as tonight's conversation was.)
Marriage led me to sacrament, and for that, I will always be grateful to it.