Sunday, August 21, 2011

Married spirituality

Recovering from wedding fever
Months before my son’s wedding, people began asking me if I had my dress. I didn’t. I began to worry about my dress. I woke up at night, worrying about this dress that I didn’t have. I was succumbing to wedding fever, a condition of temporary craziness that grips women involved with wedding planning.

A good self-talking to (“Relax, it’s only a dress”) and a plan of action (“Go shopping”) put things back into perspective. When I finally went shopping for the dress two months before the event (which seemed like plenty of time to me), I discovered these sorts of special occasion dresses are typically ordered a minimum of three months in advance. ("Has everyone gone mad?" I wondered. "All these dresses, and I can't buy one off the rack?")

The wedding industry: form over substance
Weddings have become an industry, an economic driver of small proportions. Put the word “wedding” in front of something, and the price escalates. According to the website for Weddingbells magazine, there will be 156, 920 weddings this year in Canada at an average cost of $23,330. That’s an astounding 3,660,943,600!

Weddings are not only costly; the planning is time consuming, and for some, becomes a feverish obsession. Most of the planning focuses on the external elements that make the party special.

The wedding industry promotes form over substance. The goal for the wedding day is to transform everything. Decorations transform ordinary venues into magical places of beauty. Bridal gowns transform brides into princesses. Tuxedos, dresses and up-dos transform members of the bridal party into red carpet celebrities.

The ceremony, which should be the main event, plays second fiddle to the buzz of the party. This is obvious in the Weddingbells budget estimate. The estimate accounts for items such as the bridal gown, flowers, venue, cake, photography, videography, wedding bands, transportation, wedding favors, and DJ’s. Tellingly, there is no mention of a minister (religious or civil), church, or organist.

Towards a spirituality of marriage
All this leads me to wonder, are we, as a society losing sight of what weddings celebrate? 

To balance the obsessive craziness of wedding planning, couples and their families need to rediscover a spirituality of marriage. This is particularly important when 25% of first marriages end in divorce within 10 years.

A spirituality of marriage, whether in the religious or civil sphere, begins with pondering the meaning of the marriage vows, which are remarkably similar in both types of ceremonies. Through their vows, the couple freely gift themselves to each other. They promise to honor one another, care for one another in sickness and in health, and to forsake all others for the duration of their lives.

Married spirituality, and this may seem odd, looks like the Paschal mystery of Jesus, which is the experience of transformation through suffering, death and resurrection.

Dying to self to create a communion of persons
Marriage is the willingness to give your life for the one you love. Most of us will never have to physically die for our spouse. To create a life-giving marriage, both spouses have to die to the human tendency to focus on the self.

Marriage involves subduing the ego, liberating the self from the desire to be right, to control, to be dominant and to dominate. A spirituality of marriage places a premium on serving, rather than on being served.

Marriage welcomes the process of transformation. The self-centered “I” becomes the unified “we.” Two separate individuals become a communion of persons. Because life is full of daily annoyances that have the potential to create friction in a relationship, the process of transformation is ongoing throughout the life of a marriage.

The transforming experience of marriage takes effort. It’s not unlike planning for the party. A venue for a wedding is transformed for a day, and decorating it requires creative vision. The effect can be magical.

Creating a communion of persons, a “we” from two separate “I’s”, is magical, but it is not magic. It is a challenge for both spouses to accept. Both must embrace a spirituality of transformation from moment to moment, every day, year after year after year. Then, regardless of life’s ups and downs, the spouses share the joy of loving and being loved.

The love nurtured in marriage reaches out to family, friends, and the community. It calls the spouses outward to transform their world into a more loving and just society.

Wedding parties are fun, but the ceremony is the moment of significance. With the exchange of vows, two people commit themselves to becoming one in body, mind and spirit. The spiritual aspect of this union will be critical to the success of the body-mind relationship.

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