When my friends asked me to officiate their wedding, I was incredibly honored and excited. I love my friends and I love marriage. During preparations, my friends, like most, felt the burden of attending to all that is necessary for the ceremony and reception. As I considered words that would best help those gathering step into the joy of my friends’ union, I had to ask why we do this to ourselves. That is, why the ceremony, the rites, the somber event? I have known many who have chosen to simply opt out of an elaborate ceremony in favor of investing time and energy (and finances) in the celebration that follows. This seems fair. Marriage here is an opportunity to celebrate the union with friends and family, and the ceremony could be seen as merely a formality. However, this again leads to the question, “then why the formality at all?”
The conclusion I reached is that marriage, as God has designed it, is beautiful, and true beauty cannot be experienced casually. Beauty is what occurs when goodness and truth are present and produce joy in the beholder. The greater the truth and goodness present, the greater should be the experience of pleasure, thus the greater the potential experience of beauty. However, the more beauty present, the more is demanded of us to experience it. This can be seen in fine cuisine as well as fine art. To taste and see the beauty, one must have taste and sight. Moreover, one must have a particular taste and particular sight to truly taste and see. Not only must this taste and sight be developed so that it is more adept at perceiving what is good and true, but, even with refined taste, there is intentionality and persistence required in order to participate fully. I believe there is a part of us that experiences this reality intuitively- that the greater the beauty, the greater the need for “ceremony” in order to participate in it well. And beauty is something in which to participate, not merely consume.
As creatures fashioned in the image of God and designed for eternal communion with Him, relationship stands as a call to beauty for us all. Marriage stands as a profound image of the greatest beauty, which resides in our ultimate communion with our Creator. When we are committing to marriage before God, we are committing to see what is true in ourselves and our spouse and to seek each other’s good and the good of the lives born out of our love. The continued fulfillment of this commitment is truly beautiful, in that it brings joy to those who are participating in it as well as to those that are witnesses to it. Such intentional commitment develops our capacity to see what is good and true in others and our connection to them while producing joy.
Healthy relationships help develop our “taste” for what is good and true in seeking connection with others. They increase our willingness to wait and work for what is good and to heal or discard what is not. Unfortunately, relational wounds can narrow our perceptions of what is “worth it” in such a way that it robs us of the joy we long for, because it diminishes the patience and energy that true beauty demands. There is overwhelming beauty in the process of making myself more and more vulnerable and receiving complete acceptance. This, however, takes significant work and risk. Our hurts can incline us to settle for the ease of a perceived safety within our control, rather than the challenge of open connection. Yet, again, the joy will be commensurate with the intentionality of the participation.
I state all this with the same goal in mind as when I performed the ceremony for my friends: I want to invite us to step into and celebrate the beauty of relationship, not just in marriage, but in all the contexts in which we are called to be like Christ. I hope to help renew our resolve to work towards what is beautiful. As integrated beings, I believe our patience for beauty is influenced by all the areas of our lives. Repeatedly allowing ourselves to be challenged by beauty helps build our tolerance and taste in other parts of our souls, whether it is spending time in God’s creation or sitting with a beautiful work of art.
As pastors, counselors, and friends our goal is to encourage those in our care to experience beauty. That is, the goal is not merely awareness of what is good and true, but joy in perceiving it and a willingness to exhibit the patience and determination necessary to participate in it well.
Sean Brooks is a counselor in Louisville, KY, and a longtime friend of ICP.