Sandra M. Levy-Achtemeier, Ph.D.

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A Wedding is not a Marriage

Published on Monday, January 21, 2019

A Wedding is not a Marriage

-- Hope Springs Eternal


I mentioned in my last blog that I have recently remarried – to a wonderful man, a widower, with three grown sons. The wedding itself was glorious (see lead photo), followed by friends and family gathered at our home for champagne and cake! Perfect!

But as the priest and dear friend of mine reminded us and all there at the ceremony, a wedding is not a marriage. No, a marriage is two lives held together by a covenant promise – to love, cherish, and be faithful to one another ... no matter what ... until death. And in the process, you discover each other’s idiosyncrasies and flaws (yes, I have a few!), and you learn to live together over time. And if you succeed in keeping the promise well, both of you will wind up as better persons in the end than you were when you first said “I do.” That’s just the truth of it.

David and I have given thanks many times that we have found each other at this point in our lives. Richard Rohr talks about “falling upward” in the second half of life ... after you’ve developed some wisdom along the way, after you’ve learned some things about what is really important – like friends, family, church, forgiveness, and love for each in turn. (See second photo below.) How blessed we are that God has wrought this miracle of love between us now at this point in our journey. And when we exchanged wedding rings during the wedding service, as “a symbol of my vow,” our voices caught and as we prayed further, tears were shed – not just by us but by others present at that gathering.

Why do people cry at weddings? Not just the couple who are promising, but guests – many of them long-married but touched by the promises being made in that ancient ritual. I think folks cry at weddings because basically the promises spoken open up deep-seated hope in all present. Hope – that life goes on. Hope – that love endures. Hope – that faithfulness is still an option in this world of change.

Last August, Peter Marty wrote an editorial in The Christian Century titled “The Wedding Experience” (Aug. 15, 2018). In it Marty notes that “the percentage of weddings that take place in churches has plummeted in the last decade,” reflecting of course a “growing absence of formal religious practice.” Instead we now have “destination weddings.” Extravagant getaways to exotic places to give guests an experience, a fun time, a memorable trip in the process. (When I was Rector of St. Mark’s here in Richmond – and by the way, where David and I were married last month (third photo below) – and “doing” multiple weddings, there was a tongue-in-check rule of thumb among clergy: The more extravagant the wedding circus became, the shorter the duration that the marriage would last!)

But in any case, I do believe that beneath all weddings, circus-large or small and intimate, rests a hope that love is real and promises can be kept. And most if not all human beings, I think, cling to that hoped-for truth in the end.

More than once in recent blogs I have cited Anne Lamott’s Almost Everything: Notes on Hope. And so I will here because Anne usually is humanly wise and speaks deep human truth in her own earthy way. In that book’s coda, she finally gets around to making clear her own thoughts about hope in her own life and in ours. She says:

Hope changes as you get a little older, from the hope that this or that happens, to hope in life, old friends, laughter, art, goodness, helpers. I hope and am amazed, some early mornings, at just finding myself alive. I thought as I approached eighteen years old that I was a goner for sure. And here I am, still alive, still here, and often in a good mood. Other early mornings? Not so much. My back aches, my vision fades, I can’t concentrate. It’s like in Samuel Beckett’s novel – “you must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

We have all we need to come through. Against all odds, no matter what we’ve lost, no matter what messes we’ve made over time, no matter how dark the night, we offer and are offered kindness, soul, light, and food, which create breath and spaciousness, which create hope, sufficient unto the day.
(pp. 180, 189)
Finally, all of this brought to my mind the poetry of Charles Peguy, a French poet born in 1873, who died during World War I as he fought for France in trench warfare. A book of his poems that I treasure is called God Speaks (fourth photo below). It’s a translated collection of his deeply religious poetry published in English in 1945. One of his poems is titled “Hope.” Peguy envisions hope as the deep basis of religious faith itself. Here are two excerpts from this long poem:

Now I tell you, says God, that without that late April budding [of hope], without those thousands of buds, without that one little budding of hope, which obviously anyone can break off, without that tender, cotton-like bud, which the first man who comes along can snap off with his nail, the whole of my creation would be nothing but dead wood ...

I am, says God, the Lord of virtues. Faith is the sanctuary lamp that burns forever. Charity is that big, beautiful log fire that you light in your hearth so that my children the poor may come and warm themselves before it on winter evenings. ... And around Charity, I see all my poor sitting in a circle around that fire and holding out their palms to the heat of the hearth. But my hope is the bloom, and the fruit and the leaf, and the limb, and the twig, and the shoot, and the seed, and the bud. Hope is the shoot, and the bud of the bloom of eternity itself.
(pp. 96-7; 98; 102-3)
My point? Faith in life, faith in God, faith in some Truth that shines in the dark, is based on the hope that is in us. And that is why people cry at weddings. It’s the promise given and witnessed by all present, bound to one another by the grace within us. Hope indeed that springs and flows eternal in each of our hearts that keeps us going every morning. “You must go on ... I will ... go on” with the hope that is buried deep within us all.
Sandra M. Levy, Ph.D., M.Div.
Sandra M. Levy, Ph.D., M.Div.>

Sandra M. Levy, Ph.D., M.Div.

I am a clinical psychologist, Episcopal priest and author, and I currently serve as Priest Associate at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. Other posts by Sandra M. Levy, Ph.D., M.Div.
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