Some reflections on Wendell Berry’s “The Country of Marriage,” John Mark McMillan’s “Magic Mirror,” and what it means for a married couple to be spiritual partners in faith on the occasion of Andrew’s 32nd birthday.
One day in a fit of feminist rage I declared to Andrew that I refused to attend a “Women’s Bible Study” ever again. I am certainly not opposed to women studying the Bible together, mind you. My ire that day was rather directed at the 31st chapter of Proverbs. “I’m going to replace all the feminine pronouns with male ones and see how all the men like being told over and over again that this is their ideal!” After all, who can find a virtuous MAN in this day and age of “me too?”
His price is far above rubies.
This thought has been echoing in my mind ever since: how rare and precious a truly good man seems to be. I can think of a handful and I count myself very lucky to be married to one.
Andrew and I are high school sweethearts. I was 14 when we started dating. We are a statistical anomaly and sometimes I wonder why we have held it all together all these years. What is this magic that endowed me with such an inheritance? Berry, too has wondered about the mystery of a marriage that lasts.
“Was it something I said
that bound me to you, some mere promise
or, worse, the fear of loneliness and death?”
It wasn’t and isn’t vows. People break those all the time. Nor do I believe any longer that any words a person says to God can bind his soul. How foolish to think our words so powerful. It is God who binds. God who calls. He is the benefactor.
In the Evangelical, then Fundamentalist, then Evangelical again culture I’ve been immersed in for most of our relationship it was drilled into me that women should prize a man who is a spiritual leader for her family. Even at the nadir of my brain-washed pendulum I questioned this wisdom. If that’s how it is supposed to be why does it seem it’s always the mothers and grandmothers credited with being the examples of faith in folks’ younger days? What if your man is like mine, introverted, quiet?
I decided even then that my faith and spiritual development was my own responsibility and that I would not rely on any man to direct me. Don’t even get me started on my feelings towards Evangelical male preachers who think themselves some kind of authority on…anything really. I don’t see Andrew that way. And I still revel with joy that I don’t have to put up with the smugness of someone who thinks faith can be condensed into a multiple choice bubble on some test that you can fail. (Those exist, by the way.) This is good about him, but I also thought that this meant that I was on my own to seek and find truth. My seminarian husband still does usually respond to my eager questions about God and the Bible with questions reflected back at me. How very infuriating. How like Jesus. Ugh.
Now, across the distance of years I can see the climb I’ve been on. It drops out below me and I’m peering down the rocky slope I’ve just struggled up. Andrew actually has been my guide over rough terrain but in such a subtle way I didn’t know it was happening. The handholds I’ve found and gripped for dear life have been hacked into the stone by his axe. Put another way, following Andrew is like walking after my father in deep snow as a child. Or like hiking early last spring together through thick mud when I appreciated for the first time just how much bigger Andrew’s feet are than mine, and what a blessing that is.
Andrew is two years older than me. (If he were here right now he would quickly interject “two and a half!”) We are close to the same age, but yet not. We laugh together all the time at how precisely I seem to always been two years behind him in discovering new things I resonate with. I will find a book lying around his office and then tell him exuberantly about the life-changing things I find inside, to which he replies warmly, “Yes, I read it two years ago and recommended it then but you weren’t interested.” This has been true of movies, music, and theology as well.
As the one who has walked before me through the joys and heartaches of asking the questions that have no answers, Andrew has also been uniquely positioned to understand me. As I said, Andrew is introverted; He is an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs. I am a true ENFP. Impulsive, exuberant, talkative about serious topics, disorganized, unable to finish things I start, a dreamer and idealist. I have made big mistakes in thinking. I have believed false things about God, the world, and the people in it, to my shame. I have sought and found answers. Some are still elusive and I feel the tension daily. I will say for myself though that through it all I have remained intensely earnest. I believe and do with all of my heart.
But I am not brave like Andrew is. His being ahead of me on our pilgrimage has lead to some intense arguments between the two of us. I have been guilty of shouting, of sobbing. I have called him names like “heretic” and begged him not to talk to me about certain topics. I have scoffed and laughed at his ideas. I have thought HE was the one with less faith. I see now that I am like my namesake, laughing at the seemingly absurd message given to my husband by God himself. Andrew has learned to be patient. It just takes me longer to find the courage to step of the broad path and follow the fork into the narrow way that leads to life and always back home.
“I was a wanderer
who feels the solace of his native land
under his feet again and moving in his blood.
I went on, blind and faithful. Where I stepped
my track was there to steady me…
Sometimes our life reminds me
of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing
and in that opening a house,
an orchard and garden,
comfortable shades, and flowers
red and yellow in the sun, a pattern
made in the light for the light to return to.
The forest is mostly dark, its ways
to be made anew day after day, the dark
richer than the light and more blessed,
provided we stay brave
enough to keep on going in.”
I’ve been listening to this remake of “Magic Mirror” that came out this past month. John Mark McMillan features his friend and collaborator Josh Garells in this version. I love them both but the two of them together is Revelatory. The song is actually about his children, but I can’t help but meditate on Andrew as I listen.
We are made in God’s image and His image is in each of us. God, the ineffable, indescribable, described himself perfectly in the incarnation of a man. Therefore, I do not think it sacrilegious to believe that we can see his reflection in people. In so many ways, Andrew is Jesus to me. He is my friend, my only true and lasting friend, who understands me better than I do myself. He is omniscient when it comes to my mind
All the muck and mire plus all that is transcendent in me—
He knows intimately. Whether I be the excellent wife who is a crown upon her husbands head or whether I be thorns in his brow… He loves me.
He doesn’t give up on me. He won’t let me give up on us. And I hope, sometimes, he sees God in me, too.
“We are more together
than we know, how else could we keep on discovering
we are more together than we thought?
You are the known way leading always to the unknown,
and you are the known place to which the unknown is always
leading me back. More blessed in you than I know,
I possess nothing worthy to give you, nothing
not belittled by my saying that I possess it.”
Happy 32nd birthday, Andrew.