The Delights of Married Love
A Wedding Meditation*
I want to say a few things about the delights of married love. First, some thoughts about delight itself.
Imagine for a moment a child who is opening a gift. She has an excited anticipation as she tears off the wrapping paper. Upon first seeing the gift itself, she breaks into a spontaneous awe. A bright smile displays itself on her face, and perhaps she jumps and twirls with glee. This is an excited, skip-and-dance delight.
There is a calmer delight that consists of a quiet and more lasting contentment. This second kind of delight is more subdued, yet it possesses warmth and fervor. Perhaps we can call it warmhearted delight.
Married love is worthy of delight in both these senses. It is worthy of wild exuberance and of calm and lasting contentment. We may legitimately twirl with a lively glee when we contemplate married love, and we may feel lasting warmth about it as well.
What are some of the features of married love that we may delight in? I shall mention six. The first is that someone is with us. One of the most terrifying prospects in life is to be alone and forgotten. We dread going home to an empty house and shrink from the thought of waking up to a vacant bedroom. In marriage, though, someone is there waiting for us and someone lies beside us when we first open our eyes to a new day. It is the love of our life who waits for us and who lies beside us. In the words of the poet Mary Elizabeth Coleridge, there is “no more alone sleeping, no more alone waking” (“Marriage”). Here is something we may delight in, mostly, perhaps, with the warmhearted sort of delight but sometimes with the exuberant sort.
A second source of delight in married love is touching, both in an everyday way and in a skin-to-skin way. A touch on the shoulder gives needed reassurance, which is worth remembering with warmhearted delight. Skin-to-skin touching may take one to high degrees of passion, a passion which we may legitimately anticipate—and remember—with just as intense wild delight.
A third source is the opportunity to observe moral beauty close up. Deep within each of us is an instinct to gaze on goodness. This instinct is often hidden, sometimes squashed, and frequently forgotten. Yet it is there, placed there by God, and it waits patiently for us to let it take hold of us. It is the instinct that makes us want to know God’s goodness. It also seeks satisfaction in knowing the goodness in other people.
When we allow this instinct to move us, we will actively look for love, gentleness, inner courage, graciousness, and compassion. When we find these virtues exhibited in our acquaintances, we will respond with an awe of the sort we experience when first encountering a marvelous landscape, for, after all, these virtues are marvelous. And what better person in which to look for them than our own spouse? What more elevated exhilaration is there than to treasure the virtues of one with whom we share our kitchens and living rooms?
A fourth source of delight in married love is the opportunity it affords for giving. Something in us will not rest unless we give. Our lives would be wasted, we feel, if we allowed them to be ruled by our fat, relentless egos. But what beauty, adventure, and elation our lives possess when we search out ways to give! And what better person to give to than a spouse—steadily, repeatedly, and in spite of the fact that we have sometimes been hurt by them.
A fifth source is the opportunity we have in married love to receive. It is not just birthday gifts and Christmas presents I have in mind here. It is love and forgiveness—the love each spouse gives to the other, and the forgiveness each spouse gives to the other when the other has marred the relationship in some way. Married love involves letting ourselves be loved by our spouses, and letting ourselves be forgiven by them. It consists of accepting the love and forgiveness we are given. Richard Rolle wrote that “to love and be loved is the secret business of all human life” (The Fire of Love). In marriage, of course, it is not so secret. We openly let ourselves be loved and forgiven, and when we do, we cannot help but delight, perhaps exuberantly but at least calmly and warmly.
A last source of delight in married love comes from a long and constant faithfulness to one another. When two people have loved each other for a quarter of a century, they can look at the faithfulness they have been given with a tranquil gratitude. They can say with the poet Wendell Berry, “We have kept to the way we chose in love, . . . We have kept a daily faithfulness . . . to one another” (“Thirty-Five Years”).
With age the years slip by, then the decades. Love sometimes gets lost in unthinking habit. But consider the wild rose blooming at the edge of a thicket.
"Sometimes hidden from me
in daily custom and in trust,
so that I live by you unaware
as by the beating of my heart,
suddenly you flare in my sight,
a wild rose blooming at the edge
of thicket, grace and light
where yesterday was only shade,
and once more I am blessed, choosing
again what I chose before" (Wendell Berry, “The Wild Rose”).
What would it be like if we thought of love as a gift? What would it be like if we thought of friendship as a gift, of contacts with people as gifts, of God’s grace as a gift, and of the love of a spouse as a gift, each of which we could open with spontaneous delight and warmhearted exuberance?
I do not mean to say that love should make us dance all day or feel constant exhilaration. It is enough if we feel a momentary spark of ecstasy now and then, and in between such moments, occasions of calm and peaceful satisfaction at the goodness and beauty of married love.
I end with these words from Denise Levertov’s poem, “Beginners”:
"We have only begun
to imagine the fulness of life. . . .
So much is in bud. . . .
So much is unfolding that must
complete its gesture,
so much is in bud."
*Given upon the occasion of Karen Zemlicka's and Corey Shenk's wedding on May 29, 2004; Christina Gale Garrison's and Joseph Diehn's wedding on November 27, 2004; Mary Flowe's and Bryan Arneson's wedding on May 14, 2011; and a slightly modified version at Melissa Kohler's and Marcin Zmyslowski's wedding on August 26, 2022. Mary and Bryan heard a much shortened version, as their wedding was outside, and it had turned cold and windy.
Copyright © 2015 by Cliff Williams