(From my talk as officiant at their wedding in Istanbul)
Anyone can fall in love. And most of us who have been married will acknowledge that it helps if love is the first requirement. The ancient vows that Sahar and Jeff are about to make confirm it: We promise first “to love”.
But, as we here make a commitment to support Sahar and Jeff in their marriage, we understand that love is not enough. I want to say “mere” love, although that would be at odds with every philosophy and theology in the world. But love can be a fleeting emotion. That’s why when we experience real love, most civilizations suggest that we add something more. We want to vow that our commitment is forever, and that we mean more than only how we feel.
Love, Honor, Comfort, and Keep. They are ancient poetic words, and they bear testament to an essential truth: Marriage is hard.
It would seem at first thought that in the commitment that they are making today, the challenges Sahar and Jeff face will be accelerated by their different cultural heritages. But this is only a detail. Because in many ways every marriage is a melding of cultures…of family…of values…of male and female.
Our work, as married people, is to accept the alien nature of the other. And, come to think of it, isn’t that the work of us all?
Because the fundamental requirements of all human relationships are those we practice first at home, and so, the relationship of husband and wife reflects our relationship with the whole world. That is not a coincidence.
We start with the imperative to love, with all that it entails, but there are also these other requirements:
Together, they form a hierarchy, with each of these actions dependent upon the other.
Honoring…it means we don’t hold one another in contempt…that our familiarity breeds, instead, respect, and generosity, and patience, and understanding.
And we cannot comfort without honoring, because offering comfort requires an essential respect of our beloved’s individual humanity and need.
Comfort requires, too, understanding the value of offering not what we need, but what someone else needs—which is almost never the same thing.
Comfort is an act of solidarity, but also an act of empathy: a moving out of ourselves and our needs, and into the needs of someone else.
If I need solitude, maybe I need to understand that at the same moment my partner needs affection. And the efforts we make to frame the world based on someone else’s needs is key part of marriage, and, indeed, of any relationship.
And “keep”. What does that mean? We keep watch; we keep time; we keep chickens.
But to keep one another….
It’s vigilance, isn’t it. It means we hold one another in esteem, with honor. We comfort. We pay attention. Sometimes at cost to ourselves and our pressing priorities. But…it also means to give shelter. We smoothe paths…we encourage… we understand foibles…we attempt to care, not just for physical, but for emotional requirements.
Come to think of it, it is a bit like chickens.
Which brings us back to love. These vows are all encompassed in the act of loving; they are the recipe for all human relationships: To Love, Honor, Comfort, and Keep.
It is more than a philosophy. It is an action; an endeavor; our daily work. And it is a challenge.
A healthy marriage—the keeping of these vows—requires fierce dedication, determination, and commitment, all entered into in the endeavor of love.
Sometimes blindly, sometimes fervently. But deliberately, reverently, joyfully, and not just with our whole hearts, but with every fiber of our beings.