Sometimes when our friends get married–and I’m getting the negatives out of the way first–they act like their wedding is the first wedding we have ever attended.
“Now the couple,” they say, “would like to exchange rings. Rings are a symbol of their covenant. They will wear them on their fingers.”
“Vows are promises,” they explain. “The response is ‘I do.’ “
“Marriage involves love,” they tell us.
Sometimes when I go to weddings, I wonder, “How old do they think we all are?” And we all know that they know we are not children, right?, because they didn’t invite our kids to the ceremony. Still, I wonder.
Nevertheless, the wedding I attended this weekend awakened me, taught me something about the realness of marriage. And I was pleased and surprised.
Maybe it was because of the warm sun, visions of sparkling water from a grassy Santa Barbara bluff, the humming of cello music, some good cheese, candles and Persian poetry, the book of Numbers, really, the Avett brothers–American millennials can throw some good weddings; maybe it was loneliness: I had just written a poem about my drive down the night before, reimagining a meeting with someone in the concrete doorway of a Highway 101 rest stop bathroom as sheltering with them in their tenderness from the loneliness of the night. (Hey, I never said I wasn’t trashy.) And the full moon was rising. It must have had to do with that.
I had the idea that this marriage was a tree and that there are many jobs we must take on to care for our two friends. Some tend to the roots. Are they healthy? Are they reaching down into the almost unspeakable mystery, the darkness, the silence of the earth to find the water they need? Some prune its branches. Some pick and feast on its fruit, and others wait for the fruit to fall. Some lift their eyes wide through the leaves to the sky and bask in its shade. Some crunch on the fall leaves or count its buds then its blossoms in the spring. Someone, in the coldness of winter takes a shovel (so my grandfather would say–I know so little about caring for trees) and relieve the one branch that seems to bend a little lower under each season of snow.
And I felt that in some way when we tend to this marriage of our two friends we tend to every marriage. And that truly we tend to marriage itself–that tree in the resurrection garden whose gardener is also our savior who frees us. He welcomes us to walk with him in the garden paths, to participate in its rushing fragrance, to feed ourselves in its sweetness, to celebrate in its splashes of sunlight, to rest in its shades and its softness, to quiet ourselves in its morning dews and its evening hushes, to shelter ourselves together in its abundance.
And it is not the thought that messes us up, not that this is the only tree or the best tree or the most holy tree–only one tree can have this name, and it is the one our Lord was killed on, on which he suffered his agony–but that this marriage is the blessed tree that, together with all of its seed, strains towards what it hopes to symbolize–the marriage of our Lord with his people, of our time with God’s, of heaven with earth, of the river, the feast, and the city, Jerusalem, of the healing of the nations, in the last day and in that final and first new morning.