The kind you’re born with, the kind you choose, the kind that teach Catholic school
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No visions of ever after bliss you are my one and only had I. For never did I dream or think or plan that someday I would marry. But I did and I am. Married.
We had a celebration, a ceremony, because we wanted to share our joy with the people we loved. It was an exquisite day. It is more than a legal or sacred bond between us, it is a connection, a commitment to our past and our future, our home and our community and our culture. These years of living and sharing with my pal, my friend, my lover, my husband, have given me joy, those times when what I chose and what I desire are the same.
And you know I think that Wendell Berry says it as I would like to (when he writes of what a marriage can be):
“It is possible to imagine a more generous enclosure — a household welcoming to neighbors and friends: a garden open to the weather, between the woods and the road. It is possible to imagine a marriage bond that would bind a woman and a man not only to each other, but to the community of marriage, the amorous communion at which all couples sit: the sexual feast and celebration that joins them to all living things and to the fertility of the earth, and the sexual responsibility that joins them to the human past and the human future. It is possible to imagine marriage as a grievous, joyous human bond, endlessly renewable and renewing, again and again rejoining memory and passion and hope.” (Wendell Berry, “The Unsettling of America,” p. 120)
Questions like yours that ask what is marriage make me wish that I could write you a poem, or sing you a song, words come not so easy to me perhaps because I take them all so very seriously. I feel that I have been blessed in many ways.
Marriage is an acceptance, a total acceptance of another’s life. That does not mean taking another to oneself or giving oneself to another. Both can be just a socially sanctioned form of slavery.
The acceptance I speak of lies in the pit of your stomach waiting to be used, yet very well guarded against use. We want, egotistically, to reserve this acceptance for some hidden destiny which, it seems, never comes, re Henry James’ beast in the jungle. Many never come to understand that this beast, this destiny for which we reserve our acceptance, will never come to us, that this beast (or beauty) is irrevocably dependent on the use of acceptance.
The beast/beauty is, in fact, acceptance. It is within us, not without us.
Some say that marriages are no longer made in heaven. On the contrary, marriages are made in heaven; but we keep dragging them down into the mud. We seem to have forgotten a basic truth: that marriage without God is a contract without any substance.
What a sacred and beautiful covenant is marriage! Those who say that the marriage union is no longer meaningful, no longer relevant, no longer functional reveal their own lack of understanding. For there is nothing so basically human and yet divine as marriage. And it is the divinity which raises the human aspects out of the mire and into the clouds.
Marriage is not meant to be a contract between “two consenting adults.” It is meant to be a covenant between a couple and God. It is not a 50/50 proposition, a shifting give-and-take relationship. It is a 100% commitment to a union blessed and sanctified by God.
Marriage has lost its power for the same reason most other institutions have weakened — lack of total commitment. Marriage is not a situation which one tolerates as long as it’s comfortable, nonthreatening and serviceable. It is not like an apartment or a job that can be changed when you like, or can afford to. It is a commitment for life — “for better or worse” — a commitment to life, growth, understanding . . . and God.
In Jewish tradition, marriage is meant to prepare the husband and wife for ultimate union with the Creator. (If you can’t get along with your spouse, how are you going to relate to God?) Christianity teaches that the love between husband and wife is to be like the love between God and His church: “God so loved the world He gave His only begotten son. . . .” That is love that overcomes all faults, weaknesses, temptations, crises and irritations that normally arise between people. Such a love is God-inspired! Without it, a marriage cannot work. It is a selfless love, a giving love, a confident love — a love based on the knowledge that God loves us so much that He will take care of all our spiritual, emotional and physical needs and we can forget about our selves. But, of course, the human commitment must be made first. God waits for us — He is always ready to clasp outstretched hands and raise up His children.
Lest this sound like a lovely fairy tale, I must confess that I have had to go through my share of hell to find out that it is true. If I had known then what I know now, my first marriage would not have ended. No regrets — just a sense of loss. But the Lord has given me another opportunity, and now, with His love shining over and within us, with the knowledge that Jesus and the Holy Spirit have dominion over this marriage, I can only rejoice and praise Him! I pray that each of you may know the fullness of a marriage made and kept in heaven.
I could not do it, honestly, and that’s the truth. My thoughts about marriage wouldn’t jell. Too contradictory. What I believe and what I practice are antipodal. First off, there’s the kind of man I choose as a mate, or they choose me. God knows it’s flukey. When I’m married I’m miserable, wondering “how did this happen?” and then spending the rest of my waking moments trying to figure out how to get out of it. Also, articles about marriage! Well, I hate them. Like articles about interior decorating. I figure if you choose to read articles about marriage, well, your marriage is already on the lurch. Like liver trouble. I mean you don’t even know you’ve got a liver until it starts acting up. Then you have it removed, or whatever it is you do with unreliable livers.
It seems like those of us who are still married are survivors. Being intense, strong-willed people, we have had a stormy relationship. We were drawn to each other as I believe most people are — because we sensed in each other the strong development of some qualities that were weak in ourselves. Our growth has been to find and develop those qualities in ourselves to become wholer people.
Happily we’ve reached a shared dream and a shared vision of what we want from life. We know each other better than anyone else has ever known us: we live a close life physically (in a schoolbus), emotionally, and philosophically. I don’t think I’d last long in any other kind of marriage, but getting to this place has been challenging and difficult at times. It’s been mutual psychotherapy with neither one of us at all detached. There have been times when we have had to make the commitment again — to plunge through our fear of the other, with renewed openness. Breaking through that fear-barrier to feel our real vulnerability with each other — that has been truly freeing. When you realize that all you are is a wanting to love and be loved, there’s nothing left to lose. The trust and caring we find with each other is the starting place, a pebble in the pool. It ripples through the rest of our lives.
Here are some things we’ve learned that have been good for us:
Be honest with each other.
Trust in your sameness; respect the seeming differences.
Be as self-reliant as you can.
When you want some comfort, ask for it as directly as you can.
If you say you care about the other person’s feelings, don’t make it hard for him/her to tell you what they are; then listen and act accordingly.
Learn to trust the other.
Be straight about your fears and deal with them.
Trust in your own worth.
Not much time right now, but the topic “What Is Marriage?” is too tempting to pass up, especially since our input may be slightly different from most of your other respondents.
In preface, Sita and I have been married 12 years. We met on one day and moved in on the next; sort of “ah, so here we are again; let’s get on with it.” No big romance or trips. I was 19 and she was 22.
To us, marriage is only a vehicle for going to God. Monks go solo, and married couples go as a tag-team; one can’t get even a step ahead at the other’s expense. If the couple truly become “Dharma-mates” then there is never the question of separation or divorce. This Dharma marriage is quite different from a marriage based on social/psychological principles such as peace, happiness, liberated woman, liberated man in the popular sense. The Dharma marriage is a raw, no-holds-barred journey in which neither partner has any “rights” at all or spaces to uphold and protect, etc. Ram Dass used to query us, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be free?”
Rather than developing a context which maximizes the daily peace and harmony, the Dharma marriage equally fulfills the function of showing both partners all their uptightnesses, weaknesses and insecurities so that they can become free rather than just comfortable. Many marriages in our culture dissolve because the discomfort becomes too great for our model of what marriage should be like. Ironically, there’s a tremendous joy in giving up even the slightest model or anxiety about having a happy marriage. There’s an old Buddhist saying, “Ah, the joy, to discover that there’s no happiness to be found in this world.”
If I want to be free, then anything that Sita does that gets me uptight is simply one more opportunity for me; it has nothing at all to do with her. If our life together is pleasant, that’s fine; if it’s not, then that’s fine too. Our union is a precious opportunity to come to God; who else other than your wife or husband can pick apart all those deepest, subtlest ego spaces? Why give that up so that we can hide better? In a sense this is the difference between bond and relationship. Sita and I have a stronger bond every day, because our relationship dissolves more every day. Relationship implies specified ways or guidelines within which two people deal with each other; agreements, more or less, about what goes and what doesn’t. The more defined a relationship, the less the union can evolve and change; the two people only have a certain context with each other; there’s a built-in stress in the system right from day one. The less the relationship, it’s a little scarier, but the stronger is the bond which develops. One year may be filled with romance, the next year may be totally platonic, in a third they may seemingly be going in different directions, in a fourth they may be driving each other crazy. The Dharma-mates don’t freak as their space changes, because they’re not clinging to a model of how it should be. It all becomes fascinating to experience — quite humbling as well. The Love deepens and grows too much to remain personal, and becomes Love for God instead. There’s no husband or wife, just two intimately connected beings becoming free together; for thousands and thousands of years, crossing gender and cultures and times. . . . Change comes only with time; and Love defeats time. A relationship which depends on certain things changing or not changing is not one in Love.
Children become part of the marriage. The husband-wife-children thing is just the brief passing support system this time around. We honor that level, but also live more as two brothers and a sister on the spiritual journey. Laxmana, Sita and I are a marriage which we enjoy and appreciate more than words can describe. One of the definitions of “marriage” is “an intimate union.” The literal definition of “Yoga” is “union.” In answer to your question, “What is marriage?”, it certainly is an intimate Yoga — one intricate, exquisite vehicle for going to God.
Ah, the grand humor of it all . . . Here comes the wind, the warm dry night wind, and who are we. . . . ?
Bo, Sita, and Laxmana Lozoff
Marriage is union, union is one, and when we unite with that Perfect One living within inside us our happiness and fulfillment in this life is complete, for experiencing His glory is the essence of Love.
He joins us so that we may together share the joy of feeling, breath by breath, His Love flows from one source, and as parents of His children may receive the grace of being His servants. ‘Who is it we spend our entire life loving?’ — Kabir.
We are more deeply in love now than when we were first married. That was a romantic love. Spring; cut loose from school and set out to discover the world. Now, seven years and two kids later, house in town with a mortgage, we are experiencing the deepest, most intoxicating love affair of our lives. It’s impossible to express the fullness of the love we both feel for our Guru Maharaji Ji. He has given us both so much that love is now so non-specific, it just comes breath by breath by breath.
Once Mirabai came to the temple to worship her Lord. A male devotee came to the door and would have barred her entry. “Women are not allowed,” he said. Mirabai spoke gently, “Are we not all women before the Lord?”
What else could possibly matter but that you have a good marriage? And blah, blah, blah. I’ve told myself this a million times or more, endlessly. I add “and blah, blah, blah” because I’ve never been married. So I can keep going for a while quite pleased with myself, presenting vividly my ideals of a marriage. And it all comes back down to this quiet, persistent, respected little voice which says, “and you ain’t been married yet, honey, it’s all speculation.”
But it isn’t just.
I feel like I’ve been in and out of marriage. I banked my life fully on another person’s life. I let him bank his life on mine too. We loved. We relaxed. We saw each other through hellish times over money, and the lack of it. We got to know each others’ families. We kept in touch with each other throughout the day when we were separated by work. We looked at the world around us and we hugged ourselves, we made sweet love. We agreed: this is so precious — the beauty and the honesty of this relationship. There is this world, where people do not know how to love each other, they have forgotten how to love each other. They find it so difficult to look beyond each others’ fears and to say Yes, warm, touching, I see your truth, I see your guts, I see your shining graceful faith, I see your beauty, I see your yuckies, that’s okay I believe in you. I believe in you, I BELIEVE IN YOU.
And so I’ve lived forth this declaration with someone before. I feel that I’ve been married.
It didn’t work out, or it hasn’t worked out yet, that we’ve been able to live with each other. Yet we’ve lived with each other off and on for several years. We don’t live together now but we live in each other. It can’t be denied.
So this lesson I seem to be learning is that one has to believe in oneself fully first, fully and completely and calmly, before one can believe in someone else. That’s the way it’s working out for me anyway.
I still believe in marriage.