By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
The famous Vancouver-based author Dr. J.I. Packer once commented that “marriage, being the most delicate and demanding of relationships, as well as potentially the most delightful, is a terribly difficult topic on which to write wisely and well.” In spite of such concerns, Dr. Packer agreed to write a foreword endorsing a Gold Medallion Book Award winner entitled “The Mystery of Marriage”. “Rarely”, says Packer, “has a new book roused in me so much enthusiasm as has the combination of wisdom, depth, dignity and glow … that I find in these chapters. “
The author, Mike Mason, believes that marriage comes to everyone as an intense invasion of one’s privacy. That is why he believes that there is in us “a secret resentment of the demands of marriage, a reluctance to give way any more than is absolutely necessary.” In all of us, there is a struggle between the needs for dependence and for independence, between the urge toward loving cooperation and the opposite urge toward detachment, privacy, self sufficiency.
One of the hardest things in marriage, says Mason, is the feeling of being watched. It is the constant surveillance that can get to one, that can wear one down like a bright light shining in the eyes, and that leads inevitably to the crumbling of all defenses, all facades, all the customary shams and masquerades of the personality. Being watched, for Mike Mason, is an ambivalent but life giving experience. “Being watched by one who loves is not like being watched by anyone else on earth! No, to be loved as one is being watched is like one thing only: it is like the watchfulness of the Lord God Himself …”
Marriage to Mike Mason is a profound paradox, full of ambiguity. That is why he believes that ” … there is nothing in the world worse than a bad marriage, and at the same time nothing better than a good one.” To be married, says Mason, is to have found in a total stranger a near and long lost relative, a true blood relative even closer to us than father or mother.
Marriage for Mason is an act of contemplation. It is a divine pondering, an exercise in amazement. “Marriage, as simply as it can be defined, is the contemplation of the love of God in and through the form of another human being.”
Part of the mystery of marriage is that you can never exhaust the uniqueness and otherness of one’s partner. Along with growing familiarity, marriage brings a growing sense of the strangeness and unknowability of one’s spouse. As Mason puts it, ‘There is just something so purely and untouchably mysterious in the fact of living out one’s days cheek by jowl under the same roof with another being who always remains, no matter how close you manage to get, essentially a stranger. You know this person better than you have ever known anyone, yet often you wonder whether you know them at all.”
Love, for Mason, is an earthquake that relocates the center of the universe. Our natural tendency is to treat people as if they were not “others” at all, but merely aspects of ourselves. In a loving marriage, we cease to be the centre of our own universe. The very purpose of marriage is to draw us beyond ourselves, to “get us out beyond our depth, out of the shallows of our own secure egocentricity and into the dangerous and unpredictable depths of a real interpersonal encounter,” That is why marriage is so disturbingly intense and disruptively involving. “Angering, humiliating, melting, chastening, purifying, marriage touches us where we hurt most, in the place of our lovelessness.”
Marriage, says Mason, is one of God’s most powerful secret weapons for the revolutionizing of the human heart. It is a heavy, concentrated barrage upon the place of our greatest weakness, which is our relationship with others.
Marriage to Mason is the beating heart of society itself. Why do people love weddings so much? Because “every time a wedding takes place, the highest hopes and ideals of the whole community are rekindled”. For most people, says Mason, marriage is the single most wholehearted step they will ever take toward a fulfilling of Jesus’ command to love one’s neighbour as oneself.
Marriage is inevitably the flagship of all other relationships. One’s own home is the place where love must first be practised before it can truly be practiced anywhere else. My prayer for those reading this article is that love will first be practised in our homes and our marriages, so that it may truly overflow from our homes to bless the rest of our world.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
-author of the award-winning book Battle for the Soul of Canada
-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier
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