Every year your pastor or priest, if you have one, or your Rabbi, or your Imam will take a few minutes, to quip on, allude to, or at least make mention of New Year’s Resolutions. They will probably tell you the latest statistic, that the average sincere resolution maker quits within two weeks of making that resolution.
I will not pretend here to be able to suggest precisely why we, as a species, so quickly lose our resolve, so quickly walk away from a personal commitment. I can say generally why, though: we are not perfect. (Okay, maybe that’s pretty obvious.) And we are weak. We don’t like hearing that or admitting that, but we are. We can be tempted beyond what we think we can endure by our own strength. We can be misled by our own desire—desire for a cookie, a new car or even a new job, or even a child.
A long time ago a couple named Sarai and Abram were so misled. They wanted a child—one promised to them, mind you—so badly that they were willing to go rogue to get one. Sarai induced Abram to sleep with their servant Hagar to achieve their desired goal. The result was a never-ending rivalry that sprung up between two brothers—half brothers, at least—a rivalry for the affection of the Father that goes on, one might even argue, to this day. The point is this: our desires can make us do some pretty stupid things, things that harm others and treat others like commodities. Hagar was merely a vessel, one could say, for that couple’s desire for a child and, perhaps, the recipient of Abram’s private lust. So strong are our desires for that cookie, that car, or that relationship, or that goal, even the “good” goal of having a child. So strong.
At the end of one conference that my philologist friend goes to year in and year out there is a committee that makes resolutions about the place the conference has been held. That committee begins each statement playfully with the affirming, “Be it resolved….” Maybe instead of personal resolutions, like resisting cookies or cars or paramours we should, this year, start a few sentences with “Be it resolved.…” I offer a few examples:
Be it resolved to treat people kindly, the way I would like to be treated.
Be it resolved that I should deepen relationships.
Be it resolved that I be a better listener.
Be it resolved that I should be compassionate to those in need, whatever that need might be.
Be it resolved that I give more money to the poor than ever before.
Be it resolved that I have a better sense of humor and not look for offense in the words of others.
Be it resolved that I not do everything by my own strength, but I recognize my weakness, and trust God to fill in the gaps.
Be it resolved that I be all I was created to be, humbly, gently, and bravely.
May 2019 make you a bit more resolved. Happy New Year!
There are two kinds of people in this world, those who prefer funerals and those who prefer weddings. Now before you mutter to yourself, “That’s ridiculous, who would prefer a funeral?” let me explain. No one is happy when someone dies, and I’m not suggesting that that aspect of a funeral is good or attractive. And, in particular, when someone dies young, well, of course, there is nothing good about a life cut short. It is heart rending to read about, heart rending to watch the video clip of the husband being interviewed as he buys flowers for his wife’s funeral. No, nothing good here; just grief.
But there are other kinds of funerals, those that record a hopefully long and faithful life well spent, well lived. And attending such a funeral is, to my mind, somehow more satisfying than attending a wedding. The reason for that is because the funeral of such a person chronicles something that has happened. It is therefore first a kind of historical record. Now, in many cases, of course, that record is largely sentimental, and when it is, it shares certain characteristics with a wedding, which is often largely a sentimental occasion.
What I mean by sentimental occasion is one steeped in emotion. Not that there’s anything wrong with emotion or sentimentality. The VE and VJ days are for elderly veterans and were once for our entire country sentimental occasions. And there is every reason that they should be, for a victory over evil is a really big deal; I intend no offense if you happen to be Japanese or German or of a family descended from either nationality. What I mean is the political regimes that were in power at the time and mustered those nations to war were basically evil. Thus, the American victory over those powers was one over evil. (N.b. I did not say “a victory of good over evil”; I simply said “a victory over evil,” but yes, I would say, in the worldly scheme of things, that victory was one of good over evil.)
What does that have to do with a faithful life well led? Well, there is a sense that a faithful life—truly faithful to God, country, and family (and, yes, in that order) and within the last of these categories, to spouse, and then children, and then extended family (again, yes, in that order)—even if that life were not as long as one might have like to have seen, is a victory over evil. It’s much smaller, of course, than a whole country’s victory, which probably explains why there are not people cheering from the windows as the hearse and the motorcade pass by, and the lack of tickertape, as well. But the kind of life I allude to here might be well worthy of such acknowledgment and only fails to receive it, I suppose, because we are so used to the appropriateness of somber expressions at funerals. May this blog, if only pro tempore, be just that, and I pray my departed faithful friends can hear me cheering them now.
I know what you’re thinking—“Talk about sentimentality!” And you’re right, of course. But to get back to that well led life: might not the funeral itself be an account for posterity of a victory over evil? Such a victory, though it may evoke it, certainly doesn’t always require sentiment. Rather, it requires only a tacit acknowledgment, a final tip of the hat, a prayer of thanksgiving, and the satisfaction of knowing that that person is at rest now in God’s arms.
A wedding, on the other hand, well, that’s a much dicier affair. According to a recent article by Christopher Ingraham in the Washington Post in which a new study is distilled for the less-than-conversant-with-sociological-ease audience, “the age-standardized divorce rate has actually risen by an astonishing 40 percent. . . .”
That is not exactly a sea change, but it is a very significant uptick and it’s actually a bit more frightening because, as the author intimates, so many young couples now cohabit instead of ever getting married, even if they have children. Yet those folks break up at an alarming rate, too, and that’s an unreported statistic, which means that when we consider the profound recent increase in the divorce rate much of it must be attributed to what is now called “gray divorce,” which is, indeed, at a higher rate than ever before, as another Washington Post article, this one by Brigid Schulte, reveals. Even the statistics cited in that article—i.e., that gray divorce rates have more than doubled since 1990—obscure the kinds of arrangements as those that the author playfully calls “‘Irish Divorce’: two people living separate lives and in all ways strangers, disconnected from each other, sharing only an unhappy past and a pair of wedding rings.” So, when I go to a wedding, I can’t help but think, “Well, I hope it lasts—most don’t.” And I’m not wrong, statistically speaking at least.
Yet perhaps it’s not as bad as all that, for I went to a Greek Orthodox wedding today. No, it was not the daughter that I wrote about in last week’s blog. Rather, it was a dear friend, a widower, who is remarrying. And the solemnity of that service revealed to me why I don’t like weddings, for I actually liked this one. It’s not weddings that I don’t like, I concluded: it is their usual lack of solemnity. The Greek Orthodox service had solemnity, and it had it is spades. There was the lengthy blessing of the rings, the threefold touching of them to the heads of the couple. Then there was the connection of the couple by crowns, and the tripartite blessing of the crowns, which were also touched to the couple’s foreheads. Then, after the crowning, the wedding dance, which was essentially the couple following the priest three times around the sacramental table while the priest sang beautiful religious songs about the saints who had gone before, particularly the martyrs. There was the union of the couple not simply by candles and hand holding, but by the administration to them of the sacrament of communion. There was a detailed scripture reading and an exquisite review and contextualization of the wedding at Cana. “Wow, if every wedding were like this,” I thought to myself, “I might like weddings again.”
“And why did you like this kind of wedding so much?” you may well wonder, especially because I’m not a particularly religious fellow. (I’m what my friends call “low church,” and I corrupt the youth by playing the rock-and-roll drums for an obviously somewhat progressive church service.) I think I know: it is because this wedding was the proclamation—admittedly a hopeful one, not an historical record per se—of good triumphing over evil. The good was instilled through the element of the wine of Cana and was mapped onto the soon to be shared life of that couple through the sacrament of which the couple publicly partook, just after crowns meant to anticipate their heavenly counterparts were placed on their heads. And those crowns were joined by a narrow filament, a delicate bond that might well symbolize faith itself, a band for a bond, a supple ribbon delicately connecting two souls.
Yet if you should attend a funeral, I pray it may be of a friend who has won a victory, even if it happens to be a victory in a life that ended too soon. And, should you go to a wedding, I pray it be something like the one I attended today, the bold proclamation of a victory yet to come on earth that has, nevertheless, already been won in Heaven.