Paul’s Perambulations

January 29, 2009

Journey of a Quaker Marriage (Published in Friends Journal June 2009)

Filed under: Love,Religion — admin @ 10:37 pm

A Quaker wedding may appear to be a relatively simple affair. During a Meeting for Worship for Marriage, a couple publicly declares their love and continuing commitment to one another. Nothing more is required. However, what Quakers reject in formalisms and ceremonial trappings, they more than compensate for in preparation, and that is especially true for significant life events such as marriage. A couple who wishes to be married under the care of a meeting is required to seek spiritual guidance concerning how they understand their current relationship, what they want it to become, and how they can best help it develop. When they feel they have achieved this understanding, a Clearness Committee tests their leading for marriage. This is no simple task but an extraordinary undertaking, valuable for its practical contribution to a successful marriage as well as for the spiritual enrichment of the couple as a family unit and as individuals.

My wife and I had many lively discussions in the course of writing our vows and discussing what they meant in the context of our intended marriage. We agreed that a basic requirement was that our marriage be an open and honest relationship between equals. Without a base of equal power and commitment, any attempt at this is fatally compromised. This sense of an open marriage should not be confused with the so-called “open” marriages of the 70′s that skirted marital responsibilities in the name of freedom.

We asked ourselves whether anyone could honestly promise to love a partner forever. We acknowledged that love can never be totally secure. Marriage does not change that fact. The heart follows its own course, and we would not pretend to promise the heart. We considered that perhaps it is preferable to make an ideal promise and fall short, because the promise provides a clear goal. Ultimately we realized that change is inevitable and can be seen as an opportunity for love to grow, not as something to be feared.

We acknowledged that the root of Quaker marriage is spiritual responsibility. The root of love is continuing revelation. You must accept spiritual responsibility in marriage for the continuing revelation of love. Although love is spontaneous, with mutual seeking a couple can construct the contexts that favor love’s growth and development. At the same time, we recognized that even the best-intended spiritual seeking is not necessarily rightly led.  If either of us ever felt the need, we would call upon our Clearness Committee to help us test the source of significant leadings. Such testings can generate valuable insights to help guide a successful marriage.

A loving relationship represents commitment to the partner, not ownership. Because we are still growing as individuals, what we should wish for our spouses is no less than we would wish for our children. As I said to Fran at our wedding, “My love is intended not to encumber your freedom, but to support you along your life path, so that you may live fully and authentically.”

I experience my love for Fran as unconditional love. I find this to be a life-changing feeling. It does not mean that I never get angry.  Fran and I are blessed to be amazingly well matched, but we are not perfect.  I do believe that perfect love, in the sense of being forgiving, understanding, and having total confidence in one’s love, is achievable. Such love blesses both the giver and the receiver, and even the world beyond.

I have long been an antiwar activist, our marriage is a source of inspiration and empowerment for my work in this area. My love for my wife leads me to understand that war is totally wrong because it destroys the lives of people who also love and are loved. This is an example of how the continuing revelation within marriage becomes part of the evidence of God’s love for all humankind, and how the marriage partners become a channel for expressing this love in the world.

Fran and Paul have shared their lives for seven years, and they publicly declared their marriage at Lansdowne Friends Meeting (PA) in October 2005.

1 Comment

  1. I did not include the following material in the article submission because I felt it might draw unwarranted attention and thereby detract from my intended message.

    When Fran and I explained to friends our intention to have an open and honest marriage between equals, this was sometimes misunderstood as specifically meaning rejection of sexual monogamy. Sexuality is an important topic for most couples, and unfortunately many relationships have been abused under the excuse of being “open.” But for those who do wish to focus on this particular aspect of “open and honest,” consider the following scenario. Should I eventually develop Alzheimer’s or some other disability that significantly limits our physical life together, out of love for my wife I would not want Fran to be denied the physical comfort that she deserves on account of a traditional marriage promise that was made under very different circumstances.

    I also removed material regarding my belief that the practice of common law marriage is closer to spiritual marriage than is the mere possession of a marriage license. In Pennsylvania the latter is defined simply as “a legal contract between a man and a woman.” Search Common Law Marriage on this blog for more about this topic.

    Comment by admin — February 18, 2009 @ 11:56 pm

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