Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Being and Becoming Family

Last summer I got married officially. (I was married legally at a notary public the summer before, but until you exchange vows and rings, it's not really official, in my book.) My folks flew over from Canada, along with my sister's kid, Justin, and my brother flew in from the the US where he and his fiancee live. It was a great time. One of the things that I've always wanted to post was my dad's message to us at the church. (He was the one who married us.) Here it is, in English and Chinese:


A Wedding Meditation for Anthony and Vanessa

AUGUST 7, 2004, Taipei, Taiwan

This is a wonderful day, especially for you, Anthony and Vanessa, but also for your friends and families who are here to celebrate your love and the fact of the establishment of another family.

Anthony, your mother and I have known since you were a child just how important family is to you. Vanessa, we have known you for only a couple of years, but in that short time we have been delighted by your eagerness to enter into our family circle. We sense that the idea of family is very important to you as well, and we welcome you into our family with open arms and hearts.

Today you are publicly declaring to each other, to God, and to your families and friends that you wish to establish a new and a true family. It is most assuredly one of the most important things you will ever do.

The idea of family is a common one, and the term is often used rather easily and flippantly. We hear about the need to recover family values. Often this is nothing more than a narrow partisan or political agenda, and has nothing to do with what we're celebrating today.

But a genuine concern for the value of the family and all those values which contribute to strong families is of surpassing importance.

We don't have to look far to see the ravages wrought by weak families. Husbands and wives are diminished, children are devastated, communities are weakened. Far too many people don't value the family enough and are not prepared to commit themselves to the demands and discipline of being family.

Although I don't know what the situation is here in Taiwan, Statistics Canada reports that almost half of all Canadian marriages will end in divorce. Think of that! All those nervous grooms, all those radiant brides, standing side by side just as you are today, making their promises to each other, feeling that nothing can ever come between them. Almost half of them will some day stand alone in a lawyer's office or a divorce court, their hopes and expectations and plans and dreams shattered.

But there are also those others whose marriages continue happily year after year, growing and developing, weathering crises of illness, finances, employment, and sometimes, children! Anthony, 6 days ago your mother and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. During our engagement period, I often thought about how wonderful it would be to spend my whole life with her, to raise a family, eventually to welcome grandchildren into our circle, and to grow old with a person whom I love deeply, whom I trust completely and from whom I don't have to hide anything. I can tell you that being married to your mother has always been a wonderful experience, but never more so than right now, and both of us wish that same joy and fulfillment for the two of you.

Today you are saying yes to becoming and being a family, and all of us here are committing ourselves to supporting you in this great project.

Establishing a family is a huge responsibility, and we all do well to accept whatever wisdom we can from whatever source available. Dr. Maurice Boyd, senior minister for many years at Metropolitan United Church in London, Canada, has written a book of sermons entitled "A Lover's Quarrel with the World". In one chapter, a wedding sermon, he offers some suggestions for happiness at home.

The first thing is to realize that the happiness of at least two people is in your hands, you and your spouse. W. B. Yeats put it this way, "I have spread my dreams under your feet. Tread softly, for you tread on my dreams". Look at each other often and think... that person, that life, is in my hands.

The second ingredient is to understand what Jesus meant when He said that when people marry they become one flesh. It means far more than just sexual union, although that is most certainly part of it. It means that your lives are completely intertwined; the well-being of one is inextricably bound up with that of the other. You are partners, not competitors.

A third ingredient is shared values. It doesn't mean that you will necessarily always be interested in the same things, but it does mean that you share the same basic ideas and ideals about life and our world and how we should live in it. Because the two of you come from vastly different cultural backgrounds, this may from time to time be a challenge in your relationship. This is where your friends are very important. Our social circle can be very helpful. This is how we test different ideas and how they work among the people whom we know and love. Certain truths you know, but they bear repeating. Relationships are more important than money; living modestly is better than wasting our planet's finite resources; old, time-honoured values have more durability than the trendy solutions offered by our sadly devalued 21st century.

Anthony and Vanessa, between the two of you, you represent two vast and ancient cultures and historical traditions. Search out the best in both of them, be critical of both of them, weigh carefully what both have to say, and make your life together a beautiful amalgam of two contrasting and yet complementary world views.

Finally, remember that where friends are concerned, we say "the more the merrier". But where a marriage is concerned, we say "two is company, three is a crowd". The great 20th century philosopher Bertrand Russell was a longtime champion of free love. But in his autobiography we discover a man who was consumed by anguish and jealousy and grief because neither he nor his partners could cope with the pain of the other's unfaithfulness.

One of the greatest gifts that a husband can offer to his wife, or a wife to her husband, is the gift of faithfulness.

In just a couple of minutes, when you are making your marriage vows to each other, you will speak the words "to love and to cherish". The Oxford Dictionary defines "cherish" as "to hold in one's heart". This is real intimacy, and is not to be taken lightly.

Earlier this afternoon, Maggie read St. Paul's description of love in his first letter to the Corinthians. That inspired poetry suggests that love is a passion, one of the most deeply-felt passions, and it leads always to compassion and empathy. Those too are important characteristics in a successful marriage.

I believe that when the most important things in life need to be expressed, poetry and music are better than prose. And so I want to conclude with a short excerpt from a book which Jeremy gave me for my birthday almost three years ago. Its title is "The Prophet". Kahlil Gibran, the 19th and 20th century Lebanese poet, philosopher and artist is the author. On the subject of love, he writes:

"Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself. Love possesses not nor would it be possessed; for love is sufficient unto love...

Think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course. But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:

To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.

To know the pain of too much tenderness.

To be wounded by your own understanding of love; and to bleed willingly and joyfully.

To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving; to rest at the noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy; to return home at eventide with gratitude; and then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips."

Anthony and Vanessa, you are founding a new family. You are doing God's will. May your love grow ever deeper and stronger. And may you be surrounded by a community which cares for you as you care for them.

May God bless you richly as you build your new family together. Amen.





























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