Couples are always surprised by how short a time it takes to get married. Yet, as a thirteenth century Arabic poet noted, “the tale was brief, the words were few, the meaning immense.”

Poets, however, have seldom had too much to say about marriage. About physical love, past, present, and hoped-for, they are quite specific; yea , verbose! Even lady poets become tongue-tied when they even contemplate marriage. Stepping into this poetical vacuum, Kahlil Gibran has made the territory virtually her own. Along with “O Promise Me” and “Because”, his reading on marriage from The Prophet

has become a staple item in many, many modern marriage services. Couples might well wonder if they were duly married without the verbal sanctification of the Lebanese prophet

Perhaps, the poetical lack of interest in matrimony stems from Protestantism’s mixed feelings about such services. Roman Catholics, defining it as a sacrament, have always maintained that the church had an exclusive right to perform the service, only reluctantly accepting civil participation in the matter. In revolting against the authority of Rome, early Protestants also rejected much of the dogma on marriage. Luther advised ministers to leave the business to the lawyers and the magistrates. Calvi thought religion was no more involved in marriage than in “agriculture, architecture, shoemaking, and many other things.”

Was this a subconscious reflection of the anti-sex attitude of Christians? The church-----in all its branches-----has been the great conservative in sexual affairs.

They have insisted on monogamy, proclaimed the marital union indissoluble, fought every easing of divorce and abortion laws, made adultery and fornication crimes and not misdemeanors, invented the idea of perversions, and continually worked against what Lippmann termed “all un-procreative indulgence.”

Gradually, Protestants have come to accept the idea that religion had something to do with marriage. Endless nit-picking was done on the meaning of Jesus’ participation in the wedding at Cana. Solving these theological crossword puzzles to their satisfaction, Protestants today generally conclude and accept that marriage is well - pleasing to God. Kirkegaard----who felt the only good Christian was a celibate Christian-----caustically observed that the day would come when such Christians would discover God to be “a woman called Maggie matchmaker.”

This peevish view reflects few current feelings. Celibacy seems to be going out of style. Marriage, as Christopher Lasch points out, even over-dominates the life expectations of Americans. “All the institutions of American society, family, school, church, the economy itself which is geared to the production of “homes” and all the things that are necessary to operate them----encourage this pervasive obsession with domesticity.”

But, this domesticity take place in a society in which-----depending on whose statistics you want to accept-----from 20 to 33 percent of all of this years marriages will end in divorce. The problem of divorce itself is the obverse of the coin. Many legal and social reforms are needed before can become a healthy, sensible procedure and not a problem.

Besides the wholesale infiltration of the marriage service by the Gospel according to Gibran, other changes in the ritual are becoming common. The ceremony of the wine cup, with roots in Judaism and Catholicism, has been used in a number of services at the choice of the couples. Another charming Jewish custom which some couples might like to try is that of having the bride and groom stand under a Hupah (A canopy stretched our on four poles) while they exchange vows. The canopy symbolizes their coming together in their future home. And why do not the members of the wedding party not cry out a “mazel tov”----good luck----when they toss their seeds of rice? (These fertility symbols are now too often refined out of their sexual implications by the substitution of sterile colored confetti.)

While each service is different, the meanings are universal. In Duncan Howlett’s words, marriage is a “public declaration of partnership between a man and a woman, which implies both permanence and the undertaking of mutual responsibilities.” Floyd Ross cautiously says the “relationship of man with woman is a continuing laboratory where one can possibly come to his larger selfhood.” Above all, it is the joy of being a creature susceptible to joy. It has in mind the anticipations of the joys of the body and-----in the back of its mind----the joys of companionship, of sharing the intimacies of life, of completing the self in another self.

Source: Great Occasions
Edited by: Carl Seaburg, @ 1968 Beacon Press, Boston
Chapter Three; For The Occasion Of Marriage, pgs. 89-91

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