It is often hardest to write in a straightforward way about the things and people most central in our lives. That, perhaps, is why I always seem to write around theology whenever I approach it – it would not feel right to simply reach out my hand and steady an apparently wobbling ark.
But theology today is not my topic, or at least not directly; rather, I want to say something to M, my wife, on this day marking the seventh anniversary of our marriage. And where do I begin? I suppose I could begin – in that time honored and now largely lost tradition – with describing your beauty. Yes, by this I mean your physical beauty, that still causes me to thrill when I see you, because you are breathtaking. And if anyone should protest that I am incorrect in claiming we no longer begin here – with physical beauty – I would counter otherwise. Modern society has trained us to be either materialists or idealists, either those who chase after a shallow and disensouled sexiness, or those who do not see the body at all – we are too polite, too sophisticated for that, too in control of ourselves to find ourselves viscerally attracted to beauty. But there you are, your body. And I hold my breath, and hold my tongue; the way I want to describe you is better done privately. And I look at you, and know what God meant at first creation when he looked at his work – when Adam first looked at Eve – and said with awe, “She is good.”
But this of course is just the beginning of who you are and what you mean to me – it is just the surface of the deeper beauty and love you keep deep within you. I know even as I say this what your reaction will be – how you will roll your eyes at me in sarcastic disbelief. But I have been married to you for seven years – and in a relationship with you for nine – and this is something I know; despite your attempts to make light of it, there is in you a very deep love and loyalty, so intense and firm that you are often reluctant to even acknowledge it in yourself sometimes. I am blessed to experience this love, a deep beauty you often go out of your way to hide, lest you become the centre of attention. You can try to hide under a bushel, but I will proclaim your beauty – and my love for you – to the world.
And then there is the fact that you put up with me, which I imagine takes some doing. You have to be a special kind of person to appreciate having Ecclesiastes 12 read at your wedding, or to appreciate a memento mori as a Christmas gift. You are that person, and I love you for it. And it also takes someone like you to appreciate that what is not easy may still be good – that amidst all the various happenstances of suffering and trial, we can still sit down and share a picnic beside the still waters in the valley of the shadow of death.
What’s more, you are generous, and willing to share these picnics with others. We came together through a mutual sense of woundedness and a desire to be something – a community – that could be helpful to others in their own pain. Yes, we were idealistic, and as always there are things we couldn’t have accounted for; just how deeply pain and suffering permeate the world is something that I realize now I cannot measure – the only measure of this can be Christ’s cross, and to think we can understand it – beat it on our own – is foolish.
But we can be a community gathered around this cross; together we are a sacrament, that is to say, together, beyond our particularities and problems and sufferings; or, perhaps better, despite ourselves and through these things; the grace of God visits earth. And I am thankful for this – for you – for us – daily. I am thankful for seven years of grace.
And I am thankful for the scandal of it, for in a society such as ours, bent as it is against radical loyalty, it is a scandal. And yet perhaps the scandal of such a thing is not as modern as we might think, for the disciples too seem to have found Christ’s words on marital faithfulness disconcerting (Matthew 19:10). Mere common interests or friendship or desire is not enough to hold us together – it is by the grace of Christ, experienced inside and outside His church, that we are bound. This grace is for us to whom Christ refers as “those to whom it has been given.” It is our vocation – this riddle given by God to the world – the wonder of us together.
And so I am thankful: for you, for your love, for the past seven years, for the blessing of being one flesh with you. And it is with such thankfulness – a thankfulness and gratefulness that I often express only abysmally, as I do here – that I wish you, my wife, a happy anniversary. Thank you for the miracle of seven years together.