About seven years ago, I found myself standing on our front porch observing something strange. My daughter had brought her boyfriend – someone very, very special – down to our home to really get to meet him. He arrived in a long, dark, and tailored trench coat, looking somewhat like Neo in the Matrix. He studied things carefully, and gave polite yet oblique replies to our inquiries and chitchat. Everything was going very normally.
But then something abnormal happened. We were ushered eagerly outside by Erika to observe Nathaniel on the front lawn. There, poised in a fighting stance, Nathaniel was wielding a very large, and very real, cavalry saber. I thought to myself, “This is going to be interesting.”
Nathaniel began to twirl the blade.
I suppressed the urge to burst into a chorus of “Kung Fu Fighting” and discreetly moved behind the post of the porch, nudging Susan to get behind me in case the sword accidentally came flying our way like a broken bat. Nathaniel began to spin and to thrust, whirling the blade faster and faster until it was only a blur against the birches. It was pretty remarkable. I made a mental note to enlist him to help clear blackberries at my mother’s and wondered to myself, “What does this mean?”
And to this day, I still have absolutely no idea.
Except that I realized, there and then, that they knew. Erika loved and admired something in Nathaniel that this demonstration was emblematic of, and she wanted us to see and to admire it too; and Nathaniel, who I already realized was an intensely private person, was willing to risk this demonstration in front of her parents because he loved and admired something in Erika as well.
Over the intervening years Susan and I have come to know, and to love, these two as individuals and as a couple. Over the years we – all of us here today – have seen them mature; we have seen them persevere, and we have watched them grow. We very much treasure and admire their relationship with and their commitment to each other. And we all are here today to celebrate and to acknowledge that relationship and commitment as they make it formal in marriage.
And so, now, here I am. One day I am standing on the porch trying to protect my wife from an errant sword, the next I am standing in a lavender field, offering a homily at my daughter’s marriage. This has been, indeed, vey interesting.
Marriage homilies tend to be full of popular advice. But popular advice about complex and difficult things tends to be contradictory, unclear, and not really all that helpful: “Feed a cold and starve a fever” … or maybe the other way around. Try to keep your nose to the grindstone, your eye on the ball, your feet on the straight and narrow, and, still, don’t forget to smell the roses along the way.
And with marriage advice, it’s no wonder. Marriage is perhaps the most complex and difficult relationship we ever enter into. It brings an array of social, religious, legal, familial, and public expectations to bear on a relationship that exposes and tests our most personal and intimate selves. Nobody really knows why it works when it works for some people, or why it doesn’t when it doesn’t. I wish we did. But we don’t.
Still, this is a marriage homily, and I have to say something about it. So, consequently, I’ve been reading and asking for a lot of advice from people about marriage. And it seems to boil down to these two — typically contradictory – exhortations: “Hold on” and “Let go.” Hold on to what brought you to admire, to want to be with, and love each other; hold on to what nurtures your passion as lovers, as friends, and as partners; hold on to the dreams that you share; and let go everything else. There are many wonderful things in life worth having, but none are worth more than a life of authentic, conscious, and passionate love and companionship with the person you love above all others.
This is what we all are doing here today: publically entrusting you to such a life, and pledging our support to you, even as you pledge your commitment to each other. And while you certainly do not need our blessings, you certainly have them as you enter into this profound relationship with each other and with us all. God bless, and keep, you both.