“They have no more wine.” I was glad to read that Pope Francis finds Mary’s words at the wedding in Cana as distressing as I do–no wine on a Friday night is trauma enough for me, much less at a wedding. “But imagine finishing a wedding party drinking tea — it would be shameful! Wine is necessary for the celebration” Francis said. Maybe he should have stopped there, angering only the tea lobby, but later that day he got in a bit of hot water noting that the great majority of marriages are dull. (I know, he said null, but really, shouldn’t his press secretary have changed “null” to “dull” instead of parsing around with “great majority” versus “a part”? The world would have simply nodded in agreement and moved on.)
Dull/null or not, marriage is hard work but studies show religious people tend to have lower divorce rates and higher marital satisfaction. I don’t find that particularly surprising. Putting aside a religious belief in the permanence of a sacramental union (though that’s very important), aren’t the practices of prayer and reliance on God helpful models for our earthly partnership, too? I know I, for one, am a more patient and thoughtful wife when my faith life is strong.
St. Theresa of Avila called prayer “simply a conversation with one who loves us”. Without prayer, our relationship with God is empty, and likewise, a lack of real conversation in marriage makes for a deeply unsatisfying union. Notice Theresa said a “conversation”. Not a recitation of complaints, not a heavenly “honey-do list”. Likewise, If all we talk about with our spouse is the weather or the kids, we aren’t furthering the relationship. And if we focus on expressing our needs without taking the time to be still and listen, we aren’t giving our partner the chance to reach our heart. How many times have I complained that hubby doesn’t listen to me and then done the same thing with God in prayer?
In order to have that kind of open conversation, whether with God or with our spouse, we have to trust and with trust comes vulnerability. So often we go to great lengths to avoid being vulnerable, to fashion some semblance of control over the way others see us. But in marriage, not only is that not healthy, it’s nearly impossible. Tim Dowling writes in How to Be a Husband, “Being married is like sharing a basement with a fellow hostage; after five years there are very few off-putting things you don’t know about each other.” I really like this hostage metaphor–even though we agree to be bound by our benevolent captor. When hubby and I have problems (I know, you are shocked that it’s not all been lollipops and unicorns over the last twenty-nine years) a joke about being stuck with each other (For. Ever.) goes a long way.
Ultimately, both marriage and religion are about getting over ourselves. God calls us to put aside what is earthly, what our material selves desire and focus on Him. In a similar way, marriage is about self-sacrifice, partnership and commitment. And, what I think Pope Francis was getting at, marriage is certainly about more than a white dress and a big party.
Which brings me back to the wedding feast at Cana. That gospel story always reminds me of my dear friend Sarah’s Mormon wedding in Utah. There was no wine (or any other alcohol for that matter). With no miracles to be had, we had to make do with Sarah’s grandfather, thrusting cash at various twenty-somethings saying, “Anyone want to run out and buy a bottle?” There were no takers and we had to settle for the sherbet punch.
At Cana, Jesus bailed out the bridegroom and changed water into wine. (And no one had to slip Him a twenty!) Tasting it, the chief steward remarked that others serve the good wine first and bring out the cheap stuff once the guests have already imbibed a bit. God turned that paradigm on its head at the wedding, and I think it’s a reflection of how married life progresses, too. Drunk on love, marriage is easier at first. But as life gets more complicated and challenging, we realize that yes, we are in this hostage situation forever, so we sober up and have to work at marriage. Hubby and I had dinner the other night with five other couples, all married over 25 years. As we got to talking about marriage, we agreed that our relationships have improved as the years progressed, and that the empty-nest marriage can be the sweetest. And so it seems that just like in Cana, God often serves us the good wine last.