For a very special reason, I have chosen the hymn myself this week. Fifty years ago on Sunday, this hymn was sung at a wedding. It was the day my parents were married. Something to celebrate. As I look around my world, I notice that marriages seem as likely to fail as succeed, and I think it is worth noting the ones that stand the test of time. I’m not sure why some succeed and some don’t. Many, many reasons I’m sure, but this hymn’s text acknowledges the challenges of this kind of relationship and this kind of commitment by offering a prayer for it; the need for something beyond our humanness to ensure endurance.
O perfect Love, all human thought transcending,
lowly we kneel in prayer before thy throne,
that theirs may be the love which knows no ending,
whom thou in sacred vow dost join in one.
O perfect Life, be thou their full assurance
of tender charity and steadfast faith,
of patient hope and quiet, brave endurance,
with childlike trust that fears no pain or death.
Grant them the joy which brightens earthly sorrow;
grant them the peace which calms all earthly strife;
grant them the vision of the glorious morrow
that will reveal eternal love and life.
These words were written by Dorothy F. Blomfield in 1883 for her sister’s wedding. I like that they reflect on the idea that this relationship – this life partnership – can help us through the sorrows and strife to be found in our lives. I like that the community gathered at the wedding participates in asking for the security of the sacred vow. This joining of individual commitment and communal support is probably a really important ingredient of a successful relationship. Perhaps we underestimate that, in our busy lives and in a time when diminished connections to any community are prevalent.
As I read these words I am very conscious of those to whom it doesn’t seem to apply. Those who are not married or, perhaps, differently married than what a hymn might imply. Those who are single, by choice or not. Those who are separated, estranged or divorced from the one they made that sacred vow with. Personally, I choose to view these words in a broader sense than just the traditional description of a marriage. I think there are many beautiful relationships to be found that can, and should be supported by our communities. Many that can rely on the sacred nature of commitment and love to carry those involved through their entire lives. I value these kinds of deep, caring relationships and friendships, and wish them for everyone.
I am thankful that my parents chose to foster something that endured the years. I hope the experience of observing a long, successful marriage reminds me of the value to be found in committing to something or someone this deeply. But I also hope that this foundation provides a space of compassion for those who have lost this thing that we celebrate. It is indeed a privilege to have a life partner. It is not always easy to find or keep one. We celebrate those who succeed – but let us also carry those who don’t.