THE REALITY OF the bride and groom, which is also their joy, is of course that they love each other; but whereas sentimentality tends to stop right there and have a good cry, candor has to move on with eyes at least dry enough to see through. They love each other indeed, and in a grim world their love is a delight to behold, but love as a response of the heart to loveliness, love as primarily an emotion, is only part of what a Christian wedding celebrates, and beyond it are levels that sentimentality cannot see. Because the promises that are given are not just promises to love the other when the other is lovely and lovable, but to love the other for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, and that means to love the other even at half-past three in the morning when the baby is crying and to love each other with a terrible cold in the head and when the bills have to be paid. The love that is affirmed at a wedding is not just a condition of the heart but an act of the will, and the promise that love makes is to will the other's good even at the expense sometimes of its own good-and that is quite a promise.
Whether the bride and groom are to live happily ever after or never to be so happy again depends entirely on how faithfully, by God's grace, they are able to keep that promise, just as the happiness of us all depends on how faithfully we also are able to keep such promises, and not just to a husband or a wife, because even selfless love when it is limited to that can become finally just another kind of self-centeredness with two selves in the center instead of one and all the more impregnable for that reason.
Dostoevski describes Alexei Karamazov falling asleep and dreaming about the wedding at Cana, and for him too it is a dream of indescribable joy, but when he wakes from it he does a curious thing. He throws himself down on the earth and embraces it. He kisses the earth and among tears that are in no way sentimental because they are turned not inward but outward he forgives the earth and begs its forgiveness and vows to love it forever. And that is the heart of it, after all, and matrimony is called holy because this brave and fateful promise of a man and a woman to love and honor and serve each other through thick and thin looks beyond itself to more fateful promises still and speaks mightily of what human life at its most human and its most alive and most holy must always be.
-Originally published in The Hungering Dark
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