Texts: Ephesians 4:1-3 + “One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII,” by Pablo Neruda + “I Want Both of Us,” by Hafez
The poet Hafez describes the Great Love we are gathered here to celebrate with an image so absolutely fitting for this moment that I want to read the first line again:
I want both of us to start talking about this Great Love as if You, I, and the Sun were all married and living in a tiny room.
Reading through the order of service for the wedding, and imagining us all hearing those words in this space, my imagination kept catching on that phrase, “a tiny room.” What a tiny room this is, and still large enough to hold you, and your families, and this marriage that has already begun. Isn’t it extraordinary how much life can fit into a tiny room?
Of course size is relative. I grew up in central Iowa, a land of spacious yards and long driveways, thinking I lived in a modest home because there was only one bathroom for the four of us to share in our three bedroom house. But to my sister, who’d spent the first five years of her life as a foster child in a one bedroom apartment with five other people on a military base in Bangkok, Thailand, our home was a palace. She must have thought we were extraordinarily wealthy, which we were, relatively speaking. Size and wealth both being such relative terms.
So it seems that any room might be considered a prison or a palace, and what seems to make the difference is the spirit you choose to cultivate within yourself and the purpose toward which you put that room.
For the apostle Paul, writing to the Ephesians from the confines of a prison cell, the tightness of his quarters doesn’t seem able to constrain his purpose. Recognizing that his audience is composed of people with different backgrounds and different gifts, he encourages them to remember that their differences exist in order to serve the unity of the greater whole to which they belong. Paul is convinced that, having been united with God through their baptism into Christ Jesus, the purpose of Christian community is now to join God’s eternal work of reconciling the world’s deep divisions and restoring the bond of peace. To accomplish that purpose, he calls the community at Ephesus to cultivate a spirit of humility and gentleness, patience and love.
That kind of unity, the unity that reconciles deep divisions, is the hard and joyful work of marriage — in which a mystical, spiritual reality becomes more real through careful attention to mundane details. That’s why I love your pairing of Pablo Neruda’s love sonnet with Hafiz’s ode to household labor. Neruda speaks to the unifying power of love with the kind of poetry we might expect from the Gospel of John as he imagines that in your love “there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.” But Hafiz draws us the roadmap for getting to that kind of sacred union as he locates the holiness of love in the everyday tasks of life, “helping each other to cook, do the wash, weave and sew, care for our beautiful animals.”
The truth is no matter how large or small your home, no matter how much or how little money you have, marriage is a tiny room. Whether that rooms ends up feeling like a prison or a palace will have everything to do with how you attend to mundane facts of the other’s holy presence in your life. Over and over in the years to come, your marriage will keep you in close quarters with each other’s differences — differences no less profound than the ones that troubled the church in Ephesus, differences no less contentious than the ones that characterize our own neighborhood here in Logan Square. You already know about the differences that drew you to one another, and you are beginning to discover the differences that will challenge you as you make a life with one another, differences that at times will make the bonds of marriage feel tighter than any tiny room. In the face of such deep and abiding difference, the hope of unity rests in your commitment to treating each other and your own selves with great humility, gentleness, and patience so that love can flourish.
Of course it is easy to commend these virtues to you, and perhaps it is easiest of all to commend them to you on your wedding day, when you’re already inclined to believe in and hope for the best in yourselves and one another. The challenge lies in practicing these habits of the heart once the fancy clothes are back in the closet, the flowers have wilted, the photos are in their album on the shelf and the rings have become tarnished. When you begin to count the days since he last did the dishes, or she did the laundry; when you lie awake at night listening to the sound of the other’s breathing, and all it does is keep you awake.
What are the habits, the disciplines, for maintaining “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” when those days come, as they inevitably will?
It is my conviction, based on my own faltering experience, that in those moments we find that unity is actually best preserved by remembering the diversity, the difference, that drew us together. In our most difficult moments, when we cannot agree on how the money will be earned, or how it will be spent, or where we will live, or even why we fell in love, the path forward depends on our ability to turn away from our futile hope that our loved one will someday become just a little bit more like us, and to turn instead toward wonder. To wonder who this mysterious other is, this enigma of body and spirit who exists like a plant whose bloom happens inside, out of sight, so that we can only intuit but never conclusively know when they are blossoming.
To give up the confidence of knowing for the humility of wondering is some of the hardest work we will ever do, especially in this world that so deeply trusts and values confidence, intelligence, even belligerence. And we won’t get it right away, in fact, we will go to our graves not having ever gotten it all the way. But if we can be patient with ourselves and one another, if we can be humble about what we know and what we are still learning, if we can treat each other with exceeding gentleness, then we might create the conditions for something beautiful to bloom in the tiny rooms of our own souls and wake to discover that after many meals have been cooked, and clothes washed, and melodies woven and stitched together, and children and elders cared for, that we have figured out how to live together with God in a tiny room that we cherish more than any palace ever built.
This is our hope for your marriage, Evan and Stasia, and for all the rest of ours as well.