Text: John 2:1-11 (the wedding at Cana)
Marriage is the most challenging and rewarding relationship that many of us experience. So, when I meet with a couple to plan their wedding, I recommend that they attend a marriage preparation course.
At the same time, I usually bring up the quote from therapist David Schnarch that is printed in today’s bulletin: “Nobody’s ready for marriage. Marriage makes you ready for marriage.” It is from his 1997 bestseller “Passionate Marriage.”
His statement reminds us that marriage brings unanticipated challenges, which, with grace, lead to spiritual growth. Marriage is a container that provides opportunities to confront our strengths and weaknesses, turn our potential into reality, and refine our ability to love and be loved.
At its best, marriage — like any significant loving relationship — is a vessel in which our watery potential is turned into something like a spirited and satisfying wine.
When John wrote the story of Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding feast, I doubt this analogy was in his mind. But I think an analogy between marriage and winemaking works. The people in a couple are like the grapes on a vine in which rain, nutrients, and sunshine have combined to produce fruit. The soil is family, and the nutrients and sunshine are the social matrix in which they have grown.
In marriage, two people who have fallen in love vow to care for each other and live together. This is analogous to the process of pressing and fermenting the grapes. Marriage vows create a container that is like an oak cask in which wine is aged and which gives it much of its flavour.
Like winemaking, the spiritual growth that occurs in a marriage is messy. But the love that results give our lives much of their meaning. The vintage produced in a marriage is a love refined by trials and tribulations of all kinds.
Of course, not all marriages yield the hoped-for results. In Canada today, almost half of marriages end in divorce. Living with a spouse and raising children are difficult tasks, and no marriage or family is ever perfect. Sometimes the wine turns sour. Sometimes the end-product does not satisfy.
Nevertheless, we fall in love, get married, raise children, and develop deep relationships with friends because love — despite all that we don’t understand about it — is our source, our deepest calling, and our sure destiny.
Loving other people is predicated on self respect and acceptance of one own’s reality. So today, I focus on some of the barriers to self-acceptance.
So far this summer, we have examined four stages of spiritual growth. Three weeks ago, it was the blessings of our ancestry. Life is a gift, and our families are a huge part of that. But no family exists that hasn’t been scarred by the traumas of the past — things like war, poverty, and oppression; and our bodies are not only the awesome product of 14 billion years of cosmic and 3 billion years of biological evolution. They are also fragile, prone to pain, and mortal.
To accept our physical reality, we are forced to accept that fragility and mortality, which is a difficult step for most of us. To accept our heritage, we are forced to come to grips with the wounds of past traumas as well as past blessings.
Two weeks ago, we looked at emotional identity. Our bodies yield a myriad of sensations that give rise to feelings and which motivate our behaviour. But human feelings include both the ones we like — pleasure, curiosity, and joy; and ones we struggle with — anger, fear, and disgust. Accepting our emotional reality means finding ways to cope with the whole gamut, which is a challenge for most of us.
Last week, we looked at personal identity and power. As we mature into adulthood, we develop our abilities to act and engage with the world. Unfortunately, we are also faced with the many things we can’t do. Especially galling may be our inability to create the world of justice and peace for which we yearn. Accepting our personal power also involves accepting our limitations, which is a challenge for most of us.
Today our focus is on love looked at through the lens of marriage. We yearn to both love and be loved. But to love our spouse and children we need to love ourselves. None of us can do this perfectly, especially during the earlier stages of life, which is one reason why so many of our marriages run into trouble.
The route to self-acceptance often involves grief. Even as we rejoice in our ancestors and our physical bodies, we often need to grieve that there is so much dysfunction in our heritage and so much bodily pain associated with injury, sickness, and aging.
Even as we rejoice in our sensations and our feelings, we often need to grieve that so much hurt, fear, and anger is part of the mix.
Even as we rejoice in our personal power, we often need to grieve that there seems to be little that we can do to confront injustice, heal our own wounds and those of others, and create a society of peace and abundance for all.
Grief work is not a one-time thing. Most of us build a circle of friends, date people to whom we are attracted, fall in love, get married, and start to raise a family long before we have done all the work required to accept life in its awesome and contradictory fullness.
When we first fall in love and marry, we do so with much of our grief work undone. We build families while we are still burdened by old defences and with unconscious wounds that lie about us like so many land mines on a field of battle.
And that is OK, because nobody is ready for marriage. It is only marriage that makes you ready for marriage. It is only parenting that makes you ready for parenting. It is only ministry that makes you ready for ministry . . . and so on.
Happily, marriage, parenting, and ministry inevitably confront us with our stuff. Problems arise. Communication breaks down. Disagreements and unhappiness accumulate. And so, we are given opportunities to let the ferment of this pain produce grief and then acceptance. Even as we create families out of love, the vicissitudes of life give us chances to refine love and deepen it.
The stories of Jesus’ disciples help to illustrate the process. Today’s story of the wedding feast occurs right after Jesus has called them. They are simple peasants who minister with him in Galilee and then travel to Jerusalem. They respond to Jesus’ call out of love, but they do so in ignorance. The disciples don’t know their own capabilities. They don’t understand the significance of their teaching and healing. They are dumbfounded when Jesus talks about death and resurrection.
And yet, most of them complete the journey. At the end, they don’t get what they want — whether power or pleasure. Instead, they get what they need, which is a new life closer to the Spirit of Love we call God.
Love is our most sacred value, but it is also hard to define. I like the definition provided by M. Scott Peck almost 40 years ago in his mega-bestseller, “The Road Less Traveled.” In 1978, he wrote that love is work we do to extend ourselves to nurture the spiritual growth of one’s self or another. Love is a conscious act of will directed towards growth. It is difficult but joyous work that takes us beyond the ego space from which we first meet friends and spouses to something closer to Source.
By cultivating compassion towards self and others, we grow in love even as our ego boundaries dissolve a little in the fires of life. As we grieve our losses, joy flares forth. We learn that life is not about us. It is about the Ground of Being, Life and Love — the Source we call God.
Here is what Khalil Gibran wrote about Love in “The Prophet” almost 100 years ago:
When love beckons to you, follow him,
though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you, yield to him,
though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you, believe in him,
though his voice may shatter your dreams
as the north wind lays waste the garden.
For even as love crowns you, so shall he crucify you.
Even as he is for your growth, so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches,
so shall he descend to your roots and shake them
in their clinging to the earth.
At the start of their journey with Jesus, the disciples gather at a wedding feast at which water is turned to wine. At the end of their journey with Jesus, the disciples gather in an Upper Room to receive wine as a symbol of self-sacrificing love.
In between, they stumble down the road together in ignorance and sometimes in distress, but always with love of God and neighbour in their hearts.
May our journeys in family and church lead us, like the disciples, to the wine of arrival. Creating this wine may take years of aging as with grape juice in oaken casks. But the stories of Jesus remind us that the love that results is a joyous new life with friends and lovers on a loamy path of death and resurrection.
May it be so. Amen.