|Word Guild Award|
Monday, September 01, 2014
What is Marriage? - Eleanor Shepherd
The last time that I performed a wedding was thirty-two years ago. Things have changed a lot in the intervening years. The last marriage that I performed was in our church building. This one was outside in the gazebo of the inn where the reception was held.Yesterday I officiated at a wedding.
As I read the familiar words of the vows that the bride and groom repeated after me, I recalled the day when Glen and I repeated them. That will be forty-five years ago in two weeks time.
It also brought to mind an occasion, a few years back when I was forced to ask myself what marriage is all about anyway. Someone who is dear to me announced that she was moving in with her boyfriend. They were not choosing to get married. I know that is quite commonplace today, but until then it had not really touched me personally. I knew I did not like the idea, but I wanted to explore why. I did not want to condemn someone I loved for a choice she made, when I was not sure that I had good reason to do so. For me the first step was to try to discover what my own understanding of marriage was. Then I wanted to understand what her understanding of marriage was.
As I reflected on the subject I drew some conclusions about marriage that I had not considered before. I concluded that there are three strands that are involved in the commitment that is made in marriage and a union that includes all three would probably have the greatest probability of enduring.
There is the physical union that is expressed in the sexual union of the couple. There is the legal union that is formalized by the documents that the couple is required to complete and register to be considered a married couple by the state. I called this the social union. Then there is the union that is established when the couple chooses to exchange vows and promises to one another, recognizing that this is done before God and witnesses in some kind of public ceremony. This I called thespiritual union.
It is possible for a couple to have any one of these unions without the other two, or two of them without the third. My feeling was that the optimal relationship would have as the base, all three kinds of union.
When I asked the one for whom I was concerned what her definition of marriage was before I offered my theory, I was surprized to discover that her ideas were very similar to mine. However, she still chose to live together with her boyfriend, in a relationship that included only one of these kinds of union.
What I discovered was the case for her and have found to be true for many others as well is that rather than embrace all three elements of the marriage relationship at one time, she chose to eventually embrace them sequentially. She is now married. She is in a different relationship but in this one, the couple moved in together, creating their physical union. Then, a few years later they decided to go to the city hall and enter into the social union by the adherence to all of the legal requirements of the relationship. Then a while after that, they decided to enter into what I called the spiritual union by making vows and promises to one another in a public gathering where they were supported by the prayers, blessings and good wishes of family and friends. It was not what I had anticipated and wanted but it is the world that we live in today.
When Glen and I married forty-five years ago we chose to enter our relationship by creating all three unions on the same day. Now with the fear that seems to accompany commitment for so many people it seems to be more of a graduated process. Why this is so, I am not really sure I understand. So I am sharing with you some of my reflections on the complex relationship of marriage.
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