Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mystery and Marriage

“If you beat me at Scrabble, I will marry you.”

This I said to Karen early in our relationship.

Nine years later, she still hadn’t beaten me at Scrabble, and I still hadn’t married her.

If it sounds like I was a jerk to her, you’re right. I knew she could never beat me at Scrabble. The only person who can beat me at Scrabble is Colin O’Brien, the son that Karen and I had together, the first living product of our love, followed by Kerry O’Brien, who has red hair like her mother and who is therefore a handful. Oh, and we bucked the trend, the trend that was beginning even twenty years ago today, the day Karen and I got married. We decided to get married before having children.

Yes, we got married, and today’s our twentieth anniversary – although we had been dating for nine years prior. I was not, you see, into commitment. And I could really play Scrabble.

So the reason I’m writing this is both to mark the occasion and also to reflect a bit on the great mystery of our lives, which is who we love and who loves us back.

And if you think about it, this really is a mystery - especially in the case of Kevin and Karen O’Brien. To begin with, Karen and I are opposites. I am poetic, she is down to earth. I am an actor, she is sane. I am an intellectual, she likes Hallmark movies.

Had we joined a dating service, we would never have been matched, for we are not compatible. But then again, men and women really aren’t compatible. And as G. K. Chesterton said, “I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one.”

And yet somehow it works. Despite all of my flaws, and all of hers, despite nine years of premarital game playing, despite hurdles too vast to imagine, it works. She knows me better than anyone else, and she still loves me. I know her better than anyone else, and I still love her. We would die for one another. We are really only comfortable around one another (except when we’re driving each other crazy). We both converted together and came into the Church together eleven years ago, and that has strengthened our marriage, but there was a foundation present before that, one of utter acceptance and mutual sacrifice.

Isn’t that odd?

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully … Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.”

Paul is telling us not only to sow our seed generously, but also that God will increase our seed as well as our harvest, a harvest of righteousness. But as we know in the parable of the sower, the seed of God is not always received, nor does it always mature to harvest. And Our Lord tells us not to cast our pearls before swine and to shake the dust off of our feet against those who reject His Word.

So we have here both in daily life and in the economy of salvation, two great mysteries.

First is the Mystery of the Seed - or, of the potential of fruition inherent in the seed – the increase it holds in germinal form. “Increase is mine, saith the Lord.” Think about that. We all know the frustrations and joys of work and of love, but nothing would come of it, none of it would be productive without this miracle of increase God stores in the seed.

But the second great mystery – and it is a mystery that we see both on a natural level and on a supernatural level – is the mystery of reception; the other half of the mystery of the seed, which we might term the Mystery of the Soil. This is the mystery of Mary. When Mary says yes, God becomes flesh; when the seed falls in good soil, the harvest feeds us; when the Word is cultivated in our hearts, He lives in us and through us. The increase comes both from the seed and from the soil, from the instigation and the reception – from loving and being loved back.

For the flipside of reception is rejection. Mary could have said no; most of the examples in the parable of the sower are about the seed being trampled or choked or not taking root; the dogs and the swine might turn and rend us when we offer the pearls of great value, the seeds of new life.

And so I am grateful that Karen Louise Robertson was receptive, that through our love God worked His increase. The satisfaction of love is such a rich and profound thing, such a surprise. The rejection of love is such a droning pain. And a wife to love – this is satisfaction; this is enough. For from this comes all else of value in this life.

Because in your mortality the most
Of all we may inherit has been found –
Children for memory: the Faith for pride.
Good land to leave: and young Love satisfied.