This weekend many of our family and friends will converge in Asheville, NC, for the wedding of our son, Zak, and his fiance, Kathleen. Both sides of our immediate families landed early to feast and sight-see in this beautiful town spread among the Blue Ridge Mountains.
There's something about attending a wedding that sets one to thinking. We want the best for the couple, but most of us weren't born yesterday: we have a sobering sense of what they might be up against. However, marriage statistics are changing. During the decades of the 70s and the 80s, over half of all marriages ended in divorce. Yet things have shifted in a more positive direction since the 90s. Today, if present trends continue, nearly two-thirds of all couples getting married will remain so. And then this curious fact: divorce rates are falling; but so are marriage rates. Fewer couples are tying the knot, but those who do, make sure the knot stays tight. All these numbers lead this father of the groom to feel encouraged and hopeful. The take-away may be that couples today are more prenuptially savvy. They take their own sweet time in discerning who their life partner will be. Of course, at some point, they must also take the leap of being "all in" with one another. And there's the rub!
The cabin where we're staying this week is perched high up on a hillside just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are no bad views. On my daily walks I amble down a winding ribbon of road past all manner of homes hidden among the trees. It's clear that the people here are not that different from those who live elsewhere: they like to "get away." They value their privacy. The driveway pictured above is flanked by two golden lions, a fierce reinforcement of the "No Trespassing" sign. The lions would be even more foreboding if they weren't the size of miniature chihuahuas. I joke, but I've always been saddened by "No Trespassing" or "Posted" signs--especially now as I carry Zak and Kathleen's dreams for their shared life so close to my heart.
They are with me everywhere I go, their willingness to say to the world, "I have found someone beautiful to me. I have opened myself to him. I have let her in. Our guards have dropped so that a vulnerable and sacrificial love can be born. Lifelong intimacy and connection mean more to us than isolation and self-protection."
One of my pet definitions of God goes like this: "God is a circle whose center is everywhere, whose circumference is nowhere." It dates way back, in one form or another (see Jorge Luis Borges' essay "Pascal's Sphere"). I love how it helps me envision God's mystery. God is in the circumference and center business. The breadth of God's Presence knows no bounds, its branches reach all peoples in all places ("whose circumference is nowhere"). The depth of God's Presence, God's very Heart, is rooted as the hidden depth of all persons and places ("whose center is everywhere"). Now, if this is true of God, the Loving One who is our most "solid" reality, then all self-centered resistance and division is destined to fail. God embraces all; God centers all. Which is not to say that we always strive to live as if this were true, good or beautiful. But when we do, you can bet we are at our best, or, as the Indigo Girls put it, we up the odds of our being "closer to fine."
A little further down the road from our cabin, I came across the fence line pictured below. I was struck by the incongruity of the "No Trespassing" sign alongside the stump of a tree that squats on and straddles both pieces of property. In fact, when the chain-link fence was first constructed, the builders were careful to work the tree into the actual fence line. (The fence continues on behind the tree.) I can't think of a more fitting symbol of the Christian faith. How willing are we to have our lives planted in such a way that bridges and reconciles? Do we need healthy "boundaries"? By all means, but any boundaries we set in place are meant to assure the vitality of God's reconciling love. Healthy boundaries are not walls, but gates. They keep us healthily engaged, but not entangled. They say where we end and others begin, and signal the best way to enter one another's lives. They are crucial to all human connections--and all vibrant marriages.
In just a few days, Zak and Kathleen will make their vows. To express their commitment, they will plant a Sycamore. They want their marriage to be planted and rooted deep in God's love. They hope such depth will be known in the myriad ways they branch out to share their life and shelter the world. They're praying their marriage will be a beautiful and inviting gift, not a beautiful yet exclusive possession. May their prayers come true, guided by God's mercy toward a life where "No Trespassing" gets trumped every time by "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."
I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. ~Ephesians 3:18-19