Kitty and I were married fifty years ago this Sunday: May 31, 1970. One of the ministers at our wedding (it took three to tie the knot!) read these words from Ecclesiastes: "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken" (4:9-12).
Before going further, I know as a preacher I need to issue a disclaimer. I will be writing about my beloved and our marriage that bless my life. However, as a pastor, I am very aware of marriages that have failed; unhappy unions; spouses grieving life partners who have died; marriages wracked by scarcity, illness, and loss. I know many who have chosen not to marry, and are fulfilled in singleness. Persons in all of these categories are held in the heart of God, and we hold them in our hearts as well.
When Kitty and I were long-distance dating, she working in Akron and I at seminary in Boston, I found a quote in the spiritual memoir, The Diary of a Russian Priest, by Father Alexander Elchaninov (1881-1934); "There are no casual encounters: either God sends us the persons whom we need, or, without our knowledge, we are sent to them by God’s will". To some, this might smack of predestination; I prefer to see it as splendid Divine Providence.
We not only experience this holy gift in each other, we experience this same Providence in our sons, our daughters-in-law, our grandchildren – gifts we have received because we simply fell in love. We have been looking at our wedding album. Seeing our friends, families, our pastors, and especially our parents pictured, we sense our history and examples of faith, faithfulness, connection, and systems of support. Both sets of our parents were married 56 years when the first spouse died. We are in it for the long haul!
The final hymn at our wedding service was, "Now Thank We All Our God". Praising our gifting God, the opening verse reads: "Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices,/who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices;/who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way/with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today". I love this! Our love, our marriage, our family, our relationships, the churches who have been our families, what God has in store for us, are all in this sacred continuum of past, present, and future.
Two cardinals atop a tree branch demonstrate the saying on a plaque in our room: "Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward in the same direction". Truthfully, as all lovers do, we have spent considerable time gazing at each other! Over the years, however, we have learned to turn our gaze together to the Spirit which invigorates us, the faith that nurtures us, working toward a social consciousness that engages the world, and savoring the holy relationships which anchor us in life.
Ecclesiastes reminds us the advantages of this kind of pairing: mutual reward for our work, lifting the one who falls (this seems more relevant now than ever!), helping each other, comforting one another with shared warmth. We prevail together. Yet, we do not do this on our own, because "a threefold cord is not quickly broken": the same Divine Providence which brought us together continues to enmesh us with countless gifts of love, which still are ours today.
Faithfully, in love, Pastor Tom+