[re-post from 2013]
“The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke
I said to my wife the other day how grateful I am that she knows when I need to be alone, or respects when I am not ready to speak about or deal with something. And vice versa. We then discussed the artful balance in marriage between togetherness and, for lack of a better word, ‘otherness.’ That marriage is unity, not uniformity — is the intertwining of identities to mutual gain, and not the fusion of identities to mutual loss. Love augments good in the other, and it does not diminish or steal from a person’s uniqueness.
The real power of marriage as a path to holiness, for me, is that balance — especially when it involves children — which is truly the ascetic art of love. Two freedoms, two personalities freighted with so much baggage, so many other people and so much history, come together to enter into a common quest of loving a new world into being. The family. It’s a gigantic adventure, soaring and humble, fraught with thrill and danger, haunted by the impending uncertainties of life lived trustingly beneath the wings of Providence.
Once when I was in Omaha, praying in front of the icon of Christ the Teacher, I saw in His eyes that our marriage was an entry into the the inner mystery of His divine-human love, especially His agonizing love in Gethsemane. There His two freedoms — human and divine — struggled mightily, sweat drops of blood beneath the looming shadow of the Cross in order to forge a new creation, founded on the costly unity born of obedient love offered on High as a living sacrifice.
Since we met in 1988, thousands of times our wills have cut cross-grain, sometimes very painfully, when we have found ourselves at odds and had to find a way forward together to achieve a new unity of mind and heart. Now it is so clear to us that all of these cross-cuts have been grace drenched opportunities to enter more deeply into Christ, into the mystery of His divine love that ceaseless labors to create unity with our human love; though only at great cost to both God and Man.
Which is why our marital practice of always stopping to pray when we find ourselves facing a painful disagreement has been life and marriage-saving. Praying breaks the impasse and brings our struggle immediately into Jesus, with confidence that He has already been victorious in that combat of love. His struggle is ours, and ours His.
Yet amid all of the various areas of unity we have achieved, our differences abound and remain. Some will hopefully one day be overcome, while others will never be overcome (nor should some of them ever be). Belles différences! All of them, though, as they create tensions, give us fresh opportunity daily to choose love again, to opt for a restless oneness that opens up new and far more interesting spaces with fresh possibilities to create.
But through it all — and this is the greatest grace of all to me — we know one lives for the other, exists for the other, is for the other. My wife is all at once a garden of challenge and of rest, a garden guarded by impregnable trust. Our marriage is fueled by a sacramental fire that burns deep in me for her, and deep in her for me — a fire of éros that drives me out of myself to live in her as lover; a fire of philía that drives me out of myself to walk beside her as friend; a fire of agápe that drives me out of myself to die for her as sacrifice.
This fire is our only hope. Amen.