Wedding season, marriage for life?

Posted 07.07.10

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | We're now in the high season for weddings, and sitting through a formal religious ceremony, the reception -- and, finally, dancing until the wee hours -- stimulates a lot of thought about marriage in our semi-secular times.

The pomp within a beautiful old Anglican church certainly impressed me with the sanctity of this sacrament. At the same time, I couldn't help but recall that only half of all marriages survive. The priest kept using the word "eternal" -- hadn't he read the statistics?

Rather than assume the priest was ignoring the stats, perhaps "eternal" in this context does not mean "forever."

"Eternal" could mean that time does not apply. Time is not one of the four dimensions of the vows of marriage, as it is part of the reality of almost everything else that what we do. The bride and groom speak these vows to each other without attaching a time limit to them.

Modern physics focuses on time as one dimension of reality, but seeing time as merely one constituent of the real world means it can be set aside, as can other dimensions. When a marriage breaks down, that dissolution of the union brings both woman and man back from their timelessness to "reality." "Reality", the theoreticians tell us, has time somehow built in, yet eternal vows of any kind cannot be made within a temporal universe.

It may be easier to see marriage in terms of a Hallmark moment, with sweet and sticky emotions describing the vows and promises. But part of the reason why modern marriage stats are so startling is that they do put the lie to these sticky-sweet visions of matrimony.

Traditional marriage is a bit like Santa Claus and the Easter bunny, from this viewpoint. How satisfying a description of reality are Santa Claus and the Bunny? Not very.

So seeing "eternal" as a physicist sees it tells us something valuable about reality, something that the usual clichés do not tell us. The couple is not making promises they cannot uphold.

Marriage in the past has also been viewed as symbolic of each person's own blending of life's opposites and oppositions into their own character, as we each mature. In this sense we each are a marriage in ourselves, as weird as this seems at first, because we can only grow, learn, and evolve by incorporating otherness into ourselves.

We do not evolve by following orders -- or scriptures. We have to grapple with contraries, with good and with evil, with opposites where both have influence, and by digesting the negative with the positive in our lives. We are each a living marriage.

The last rumination from the pew is to see how clithonic, how basic and earthy, are marriage vows and goals. The whole sacrament is, in essence, an initiation into sexual union, procreation, and childbirth. Ancient clithonic cults would find little fault in modern marriage -- as long as there's plenty of wine, dancing, and romance.

Copyright © 2010 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/07.10