Our wedding portrait, 30 years ago
I love this verbally rich “worship song” from the young song-writer John Mark Macmillan
He is jealous for me.
Love’s like a hurricane, and I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about the way,
He loves us.
I love the whole song… different phrases at different times. Today, it’s the phrase, I don’t have time to maintain these regrets…
Like most people, I have regrets… mistakes I’ve made through accepting bad advice, through lack of self-confidence, through sinful or foolish choices, distraction, self-indulgence, anger, not putting first things first… the list could go on.
* * *
Roy and I at Christ Church, Oxford where Irene is doing Medicine. Between Auden and Lewis Carrol!
In Tennyson’s poem “Morte D’Arthur,” Arthur’s beloved Queen Guinevre has an affair with his beloved best friend, Launcelot, and Arthur, loving both, is silent. The adulterous lovers are caught in flagrante delicto by his nephew, Mordred, and there is civil war at the end of which Arthur lays dying.
Tennyson has him say,
I have lived my life, and that which I have done
May He within Himself make pure.
That’s a prayer I often find myself praying, putting all I have done into God’s hands, the beautiful and the ugly, the wise and the foolish, and asking him to bring something beautiful out of even my mistakes and sins. Asking him to redeem them, and miraculously transform them.
For what is planted, after a period underground, inevitably emerges as something different, the undistinguished sunflower seed as glorious sunflowers–so redeem it all, Lord, the folly, the laziness, the wasted time, the wasted years, and because of your great mercy, bring something immeasurably different and far more beautiful from these grubby seeds, that I may go out with a vast “thank you.”
“I think that the dying pray at the last not “please”, but “thank you”, as a guest thanks his host at the door. Falling from airplanes the people are crying thank you, thank you, all down the air.” Annie Dillard.
* * *
At the Alcazar, Seville, last month
Later this year, I will have been married to Roy for thirty years. Thirty years!! Apparently, only 49 percent of marriages in this country reach this milestone, either through divorce or death, so, God willing, we will be in the happy minority.
The New Yorker writer Tessa Hadley describes long marriages this way: you hold onto your lover through the years, and he changes: a fairy, a dragon, a lion, a beloved man. That is the seminal truth of fairy tales: “What is essential is invisible to the eye, it is only with the heart that one sees rightly,” Saint-Exupery has his The Little Prince say. Hold on, long enough, and the Beast turns beautiful; the Frog reveals his nobility; Cinderella the Ash-girl, turns regal; Sleeping Beauty comes alive….
* * *
Me, 30 years later!
However, the upcoming anniversary has put me into a reflective mood. I often say, “I wish I had prioritised you more, I wish I had put you first,” and Roy says, “Don’t say sorry; I’m sorry too, but we may have another 30 years, or 40, or more…”
And then I think of redemption. This story runs through scripture: People muck things up, and God redeems them. God not only makes something beautiful out of them, but something more beautiful than things were before the mess, dropped rose or apple seeds blossoming into thousands of roses or apples for decades.
So too in relationships, we sin against each other…inevitably given human selfishness and frailty; we repent, we ask forgiveness, we come together again, and the latter state of our relationship and marriage is stronger than it would have been if we had never blown it, lost our tempers, repented, and come together again to try again to build a relationship built on love and care, and looking out for each other, and trying to put each other first.
Difficult ideals… and undoubtedly, we will again fail, repent, apologise, come together, try again, our marriage under God growing greener, blooming brighter, a sanctuary for ourselves, our children, our old friends, and the new ones God brings our way, like
“a shelter from the wind
and a refuge from the storm,
like streams of water in the desert
and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.” (Isaiah 32:2)
* * *
I’m sorry/I forgive you by Libyan artist Arwa Abouon
On our honeymoon, way back in 1989, we took a cruise in a glass-bottomed boat in Florida, through coral reefs. There was an elderly German couple with us, every bit as touchy-feely, and full of lavish public displays of affection. So I, curious, then and now, quite illogically, sweetly asked them, “Are you on your honeymoon too?” “Mein Gott, nein, nein, nein,” the man said. “We’ve been married for forty years!” And then he added kindly, “May you two be as affectionate as you now are when you’ve been married for forty years!” It was a blessing. May it be so. Amen.
I’m sorry/I forgive you by Arwa Abouon
In conclusion, a little, lovely bitter-sweet poem from Robert Bly
KEEPING OUR SMALL BOAT AFLOAT
So many blessings have been given to us
During the first distribution of light, that we are
Admired in a thousand galaxies.
Don’t expect us to appreciate creation or to
Avoid mistakes. Each of us is a latecomer
To the earth, picking up wood for the fire.
Every night another beam of light slips out
From the oyster’s closed eye. So don’t give up hope
that the door of mercy may still be open.
It’s hard to grasp how much generosity
Is involved in letting us go on breathing,
When we contribute nothing valuable.
Each of us deserves to be forgiven, if only for
Our persistence in keeping our small boat afloat
When so many have gone down in the storm.
Books I’ve mentioned which you might enjoy
If you’d like to fine-tune your marriage with insights from neuroscience, try Dr. Sue Johnson’s The Love Secret on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
or her book Hold Me Tight on Amazon.co.uk on Amazon.com .
Annie Dillard’s wonderful, powerful and poetic Pilgrim at Tinker Creek at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com
The title poem is from Robert Bly’s enjoyable collection Talking into the Ear of a Donkey on Amazon.co.uk and on Amazon.com
How He Loves by John Mark McMillan on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com
Tessa Hadley’s book on long marriages: Late in the Day, on Amazon.co.uk and on Amazon.com
Tennyson’s “Morte D’Arthur” on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com
The Little Prince on Amazon.com and on Amazon.co.uk