Boiling marital love

[from my journal 7.20.2015]

Great story I heard today from a priest who was on mission in Africa over two decades ago. He met a young man whose faith tradition was Sikh and who was from India. In their conversation the priest learned that this man was working in Africa with an Indian company, but was getting ready to move back to India as he was about to get married to a woman he’d been engaged to for 12 years. Their marriage had been arranged by their parents when the girl was 8 and he was 12. When the man detected the priest’s look of surprise, he said:

I see you’re surprised abou this as an American, and wonder how someone could ever have a loving and happy marriage if they did not fall in love with their spouse to be and choose to marry. Okay, let me share an analogy that might help you see my perspective. Think of marriage as a pot of water and culture as a pile of sticks. In your culture, marriage is a boiling pot of water steaming with passion, while your culture is a pile of cold, wet sticks. In our culture, marriage is a pot full of cold water, while the wood of our Sikh culture is ablaze with fire. So, while your boiling water sits atop the cold and wet sticks, it warms the sticks for a brief time but eventually the water cools and turns cold. When our cold pot of water is placed on our tight-knit culture burning with passion for lifelong marriage, the water slowly warms eventually to boiling. While both systems have their problems, from what I’ve seen of the state of American marriage, I’d choose our fire over your boiling water.

The priest then said to me:

So when I came home I was determined to expend my energies on drying out and kinding wood wherever I found it. I realized that though we need better marriage prep, the church needs to worry less about marriage prep and than it does about fostering cultures that feed marriages and families with more light and more heat. This is the fire Jesus longed to see burning. I’ve always worked hardest in my parishes growing communities with such a culture. It’s the only way I see out of the mess we’re in.

After he said that, I couldn’t help but recall the words of St. John Paul II in his Letter to Families:

Only if the truth about freedom and the communion of persons in marriage and in the family can regain its splendour, will the building of the civilization of love truly begin and will it then be possible to speak concretely—as the Council did—about “promoting the dignity of marriage and the family.”

May it be so. Amen.

4 comments on “Boiling marital love

  1. Jennifer says:

    “Fostering cultures that feed marriages and families with more light and more heat”?
    “Our tight-knit culture burning with passion for lifelong marriage”?
    “The truth about freedom and the communion of persons in marriage and in the family can regain its splendour”?

    what does this weird and mystical land look like? But seriously, I need some examples of what a burning sticks vs. wet sticks culture looks like. I would really love to hear everyone’s thoughts.


  2. nos says:

    “I’d choose our fire over you’re boiling water” with respect to the Sikh culture , me and my house will follow the GUY that turned water into wine and from whose pierced dead body water came forth. May THE HOLY THREE continue to give all who believe all that mother church teaches the grace to pray for all people to come to know the promise of the risen CHRIST…
    The number one wet wood sinner…

    • Just to make one clarification on what the Sikh meant by “our fire over your boiling water” — as the priest explained it further than what I noted here: the ‘cold wet stick culture’ was general western, secular, consumerist, individualist, hedonist, all-options-left-open culture that, this man believed, was intensely hostile to marriage and family life. ‘Boiling water’ was the western ideal of a passionate and intimate love affair between a man and a woman leading to marriage. The ‘buring sticks’ culture he identified as his own included a vivid sense of the divine’s presence in daily human life, a closely-knit community of extended families, strong incentives for lifelong fidelity in marriage, a deeply social sense of the individual’s fulfillment as including the fulfillment of others to whom one is bound by ties of blood and covenant, a ‘thick’ understanding of roles in marriage and family, etc. He saw that the cold sticks defined above made growing, or even maintaining, lifelong bonds of marriage/family very difficult and precarious. He was not offering a critique of Christian notions of culture. That’s the sense he gave me. The priest advocated for movements like this one as ways the church-local could cultivate subcultures supportive of a Catholic vision of marriage/family: DrT

    • Jennifer says:

      While I wholeheartedly agree with you that without Christ the whole point is moot, and that the Christian vision of sacramental marriage is other-worldly,I don’t think the comment has to be read as Sikh vs. Christian. And certainly, there are some quasi-religious ordinances in other cultures which are so honour-driven and in which you hear of wives and daughters being killed for not upholding what was deemed to be the family honour even if these poor women were innocent victims of these transgressions which brought such shame to the family. I do not think that this was what is being extolled here!

      I think this is more a traditional, extended family culture vs. modern, nuclear-family culture.
      as I have heard a similar story from one of my old professors who told us of a conference she attended at which there were some visiting Indian, Catholic brothers. One of the men said to her with horror, “I have heard in your country that you send your elderly parents away! That you send your children to be cared for by strangers! Can this be true?” I remember when I found myself pregnant with my third when I was in the middle of completing my teaching degree and being so disappointed at this setback to my career, lamenting to my Polish-born classmate who said to me straight out “My aunt would look at you like you had three heads if she heard you talking like this! She would say ‘you are having a baby! Nothing is more important, Who cares about a stupid degree?’ You are a mother! What can be more exalted than that?” (Incidentally her aunt was only in her 30’s and had raised my classmate who was barely ten years younger and her little sister after they were orphaned, plus the aunt’s own kids) `You work and go to school so you can take care of your family, not for some crazy fulfillment from your job…” I think of my Trinidadian co-worker who when I announced my first pregnancy showered down a beautiful blessing of praise and exultation for the wonder of the vocation of motherhood and treated me like a queen for the remainder of my time there! Who spoke so highly of his own humble mother who raised him and his siblings with next to nothing and oh, how he loved her. Who spoke of motherhood as being the single most valuable social status one can hold. Wow!

      These are Christian cultures that extol the family in a way that Christian North America does not.

      How come?

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