Answering God – 40 Days with the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
Day 22 – Saturday after 3rd Sunday of Lent
Marriage has always been regarded by Friends as a religious commitment rather than a merely civil contract.
Both partners should offer with God’s help an intention to cherish one another for life.
Remember that happiness depends on an understanding and steadfast love on both sides.
In times of difficulty remind yourself of the value of prayer, of perseverance and of a sense of humour.
(Advices & Queries #23)
From the Scriptures:
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord[f] has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Though I am not particularly superstitious I often arrange for wedding rehearsals to be on the Thursday evening before a Saturday ceremony. Not so that the groom and bride will not see each other the day before their wedding but more so they can spend the Friday knowing that all is in place and the only thing they need do the day before their big day is to be together, whisper sweet nothings into each other’s ears, and share an ice cream. Lesley-Anne and I spent considerable amounts of time in the early years of our marriage sharing ice cream…
But not everything always goes according to plan.
On one occasion, in the middle of a rehearsal, the bride received an apologetic phone call from her dressmaker saying that her hand-made dress had crimpled and shrunk while it was being ironed. She calmly said, ‘thank you, please do what you can to fix things’ then, after hanging up, she turned to me and politely, but through gritted teeth said, ‘Even if I have to walk down this aisle naked I am still getting married on Saturday!’
The covenant love between a couple of whatever sort (and the Religious Society of Friends has been at the forefront of welcoming Equal Marriages in the United Kingdom) of necessity requires a certain fierceness about it.
The Marriage Encounter movement, which was a vital part of the early years of our marriage had a slogan proclaiming, ‘Love is a decision!’ Before then I had always thought that love was an emotion. I came to learn that enduring covenant love, to mirror the love God has for us, can never be so fickle. To love is to choose one person, and only one person, above all others. Those who are called to an exclusive relationship with another soul will continue to be ‘attracted’ to many other people but they ‘choose’ to love only one. In this way every temptation to ‘stray’ becomes an opportunity to say ‘yes’ once more to your nearest and dearest.
To be in an exclusive relationship requires hard constant work, in the same way as God love for a wayward creation is a constant unyielding love. The Old Testament has a special words for this – חֶסֶד (hesed) – often translated as ‘loving kindness’ it appears 248 times in the Old Testament and it describes the fierceness of God’s love for us even, perhaps especially when, we are at our most unlovable.
Like my wedding dress bereft bride, (almost all turned out well on the day, the dress was re-made but the photographer forgot to put film in their camera!) we need to be determined to above all, clothe [ourselves] with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And if that is our raiment we can indeed find the freedom and confidence to walk down the aisle naked.
When we decide to love, when we choose to give ourselves away, the quality and quantity of the white lace and satin, suits and speeches, makes little difference. Clothing ourselves with love means choosing to be committed to each other beyond the passing fancy of the moment into the maturity of a love that mirrors the ‘love that wilt not let [us] go’.
I love that today’s Advice, besides giving the good and serious encouragement to pray and persevere, reminds us that our intimate relationships may be blessed by the addition of a sense of humour. All too often we take ourselves far too seriously and we need the blessing of a helpmeet to prick the bubble of our self-importance and have a darn good giggle.
Marriage, whatever shape it takes, is a tough choice (remember ‘love is a decision’?) and is, in some senses an unnatural state. After all who in their right mind promises to:
have and to hold
from this day forward;
for better, for worse,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish,
till death us do part;
and then say
With my body I honour you,
all that I am I give to you,
and all that I have I share with you,
Our Advices are correct. marriage is a religious commitment rather than a merely civil contract. It requires more than a piece of paper or frolics in the bedroom for its consummatio
Those who are called to marriage need all the help and humour that can be found to help give themselves away to their betrothed. Those of us who remain single should look on them with awe and encourage them as they try to mirror the love God has for everyone in the way they love each other.
Let my heart be the vessel of God’s love.
Let my thoughts be the blossom of God’s love.
Let my words be the expression of God’s love.
Let may actions be the fulfilment of God’s love.
1) Read slowly the note from ‘Advices & Queries’ above again
2) Choose a couple in your church or community to pray for. Some may be married, some may yet to be married, some may have a loving relationship that cannot yet be named marriage. All of them walk a daily path of denying themselves for the sake of another and so try to reveal Christ to us.
Quotes from ‘Advices & Queries’ are copyright © The Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain, 1995, 1997 and 2008
Scripture quotations are copyright © New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Prayers from ‘Prayers for Hard Times’ are copyright © Becca Anderson 2017
These Reflections, ‘Answering God’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2020 – and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged