Taking Time to Marry
Las Vegas USA is renowned for its quickie weddings: “You can get your licence and get married before breakfast,” they boast. Not surprisingly, Las Vegas also boasts quickie divorces. Some Christian wedding services are brief as well. But the wedding does not make the marriage.
Holy Matrimony does not even begin on the wedding day. It has a before-, a during-, and an “ever-after”-life. In most cultures, marriage is a rite of passage from one state of life to another, like coming of age. Here are four stages of this process and what they say:
- Courtship – “I might want to marry you.”
- Initiating betrothal (the engagement) – “I intend to marry you.”
- Sealing betrothal (at wedding) – “I promise to marry you.”
- Wedding – “I vow to marry you.”
The Book of Common Prayer assumed these stages as part of the Christian culture of 16th- century England, which continues today in much of the Global South. But contemporary Western society has abandoned the traditional rhythms of marriage. According to Hollywood, it takes about five minutes from the time hero and heroine match glances until they are tumbling into bed together. In the “hook-up culture” of the Western university, the burning question is whether to have sex on the first date or wait for the second, if there is one.
In short, holy matrimony has become distinctly counter-cultural in certain influential parts of the world. The Anglican Church in North America is working to restore a healthy rhythm of marriage. While the Prayer Book service can be finished in less than an hour, it contains features that take time, your time. We shall consider these stages of marriage in the meditations this week.
So let’s start out with the first stage: courtship. Whoa! What century did you come from? How about forty centuries ago when the patriarch Abraham sent his servant back home to Haran to find a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24). Abraham trusted God to guide his matchmaker, and when Isaac saw her, he “brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her.”
Courtship is an age-appropriate way of meeting potential marriage partners and discerning whom you, guided by God, would wish to live with and have a family with. In most Global South churches, there are traditional customs and taboos regarding courtship. Parents and extended family play an important part in a young person’s finding a marriage partner. There are proprieties and ceremonies and expenses that accompany the process. Some customs come from a pagan root, and a Global South Christian must be equally “counter-cultural” in rejecting them. Nevertheless, if I may speak as one who has lived in Africa and the West, we in the West have much to learn from our brothers and sisters in the Global South.
Past adolescence, you need to be clear in your own mind that you want to marry, and if you want to marry, you have to be willing to go step by step in getting to know someone. For the serious Christian, getting to know someone includes knowing who Christ is and what marriage is all about and whether the other person shares that conviction. Some Christians think that God will reveal to them “Mr. Right” or “Miss Perfect.” That happens, I’m sure, but I think the more normal way of God’s working is through getting to know someone well through time.
O God, who prospered the way of Abraham’s steward when he went to take a wife for Isaac, his master’s son, bless, O Lord, your worshipers’ betrothal in the abundant grace of your mercies, and guard them by your cross from all harm.
From the Syrian Orthodox liturgy