A Two-Part Invention

Marriage is our last, best chance to grow up. [Joseph Barth] This past Sunday we began our series Sex and Money. We began with a talk about the relational dynamics of marriage, the true center of sexual identity and expression. While our present era thinks about sex as mechanics and body parts, the Bible speaks of it as a powerful expression of sacred identity and faithful relationship. The Bible speaks of sex within the context of covenanted relationship. As Chris led us through a meditation on Proverbs 5 we saw how this is so.

The church has, at times, avoided talking about human sexuality as if it were not there, or as if it somehow did not connect with issues of faith. But our sexual identity is at the core of who we are, and who we are matters to God. And to top it all off, we have to say that God dreamt all this up; all one has to do is to read the Song of Songs to see how the erotic is sanctioned by God when it is pure and whole. So we want to be clear that sexuality is good and to be celebrated. The caveat, however, and perhaps the thing that is beginning to sound strange in our present culture, is that sexual expression is meant for marriage. Sexual expression is meant for the context of covenanted love. Only within that context can sexual expression grow and mature and become all that it is meant to be.

Let me recommend a beautiful love story which may help you see this: Madeleine L’Engle’s Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage (HarperCollins, 1988). L’Engle, a celebrated author, tells about her marriage to Hugh Franklin. They are two of a kind, lovers of words and poetry and theater. When they find each other, and begin to build a life together, they become lovers in the truest and fullest human sense of that term. And, of course, it all begins with such ecstasy, such passionate intensity. L’Engle recounts how Hugh proposed to her:

He picked up a book of poetry off the shelves and began leafing through it, and then he read me Conrad Aiken’s beautiful words: Music I heard with you was more than music, And bread I broke with you was more than bread. And then he said, “Madeleine, will you marry me?” [p. 68]

You can hear the violins. The emotions and passions are real. But what L’Engle then does for us, and what many of our current stories fail to do, is to show us the whole picture of her love with Hugh, a love that grows and matures through the course of their entire lives. To borrow from the quote I began with, you see Madeleine and Hugh growing up. Their marriage is the place where their love matures. L’Engle says:

A love which depends solely on romance, on the combustion of two attracting chemistries, tends to fizzle out.  The famous lovers usually end up dead.  A long-term marriage has to move beyond chemistry to compatibility, to friendship, to companionship.  It is certainly not that passion disappears, but that it is conjoined with other ways of love. [p. 76]

What L’Engle is showing us is the essence – and may I say brilliance – of marriage as this commitment to covenantal living. Marriage is the place we learn what real love is, the love that begins in the white-hot heat of sexual attraction to be sure, but then commits to endurance, and protection of the beloved, growing into the love that can only be found in and through time. As the story draws to a conclusion, L’Engle describes her husband’s illness, his withering body. But that doesn’t stop their love.

I go to my lonely bed, thinking of Hugh alone in his hospital room, grateful for the nurses who are so good to him. During the night I reach out with my foot through force of habit to touch his sleeping body. And he is not there. Nevertheless, we have been making love during this time in a profound way. He is making love with me in the pressure of his fingers. I am making love when I do simple little bodily services for him. How many times has he taken care of me! And that is intercourse as much as the more usual ways of expressing our sexuality. [p. 184]

L’Engle’s reflections on her own marriage through its seasons and changes gives us a window into what it means to be loved and a lover.  I think these are the kind of stories we need.

See you this Sunday as we continue our series.

Bob Osborne