Sermon: The Divine Marriage: Becoming One by the Rev. Lee Woofenden



The Divine Marriage:
Becoming One

By the Rev. Lee Woofenden

Bridgewater, Massachusetts, December 5, 2004
Sermons on Audio

Genesis 24:54-67 Rebekah goes to Isaac

When they got up the next morning, he said, "Send me back to my master."

But her brother and her mother replied, "Let the girl remain with us ten days or so; then she may go."

But he said to them, "Do not delay me, now that the Lord has granted success to my journey. Send me on my way so I may go to my master."

Then they said, "We will call the girl and ask her." So they called Rebekah and asked her, "Will you go with this man?"

She said, "I will go."

So they sent their sister Rebekah on her way, along with her nurse and Abraham's servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, "Our sister, may you increase to thousands upon thousands; may your offspring possess the gates of their enemies."

Then Rebekah and her maids got ready and mounted their camels, and went back with the man. So the servant took Rebekah and left.

Now Isaac had come from Beer Lahai Roi, for he was living in the South. He went out to the field one evening to meditate, and as he looked up, he saw camels approaching. Rebekah also looked up and saw Isaac. She got down from her camel and asked the servant, "Who is that man walking in the field to meet us?"

The servant answered, "It is my master." So she took her veil and covered herself.

Then the servant told Isaac all the things he had done. Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother's death.

Matthew 5:14-16 You are the light of the world

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Arcana Coelestia #3203 Loving and living truth

Our love for truth is separated from our material mind when truth is no longer something that we merely know, but something that we live. When truth becomes something that we live, which happens when we make a habit of relying on the truth, then it permeates our whole being in the same way our innate disposition or character does. And when it permeates us in this way, it flows quite spontaneously into action, without our thinking about any of the particular facts we have learned that form the truth in us. . . .

It is similar to how, as young children, we learn to walk, talk, think, and use our intelligence to draw sensible conclusions. Once we have done these things regularly enough that we no longer have to think about them, so that they are spontaneous, we no longer recall the knowledge of how to do them, because we now do them instinctively.

Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her. (Genesis 24:67)

This is the last in a four part series about marriage based on the story of Isaac and Rebekah. In this series we have been looking at the marriage within us and within the Lord, and also at our marriages with one another. Today we will bring these all together into one.

In the story so far, Abraham has sent his head servant on a mission to find a wife for his son Isaac. The servant has carried this out: he has gone to Haran and met Rebekah at the well, and her family also; and her family has given their consent to the marriage.

In today's story, it is the next morning. The servant says to his hosts, "Send me on my way"--with Rebekah, of course. Understandably, her brother and her mother are reluctant to let her go. There were no phones in those days, so Abraham's servant did not call ahead and say, "I'm coming for your daughter. Get her ready, and prepare yourselves to say goodbye." Rebekah and her family had been living peacefully, not bothering anyone, and all of a sudden some men show up out of nowhere and say, "We want to take your daughter." Any one of us in that situation would probably want some time to get used to the idea. So it was a very reasonable request: "Let the girl remain with us ten days or so; then she may go."

But the servant is single-minded. He is on a mission, and he plans to carry it out. He says: "Do not delay me, now that the Lord has granted success to my journey. Send me on my way so I may go to my master." At this point they decide to call Rebekah herself, and ask what her wishes are. She immediately says, "I will go." This, once again shows Rebekah's character. She is not one to hold back; she is a woman who knows what she wants, and puts her whole self into it. Later in the story, we find that she is more than a match for Isaac.

So Rebekah, having met these people for the first time the day before, says she will go with them. And she and her nurse and maids return with Abraham's servant and his men to the land of Canaan. They go all the way to the southern part of the land, where Isaac is living. Perhaps Abraham has already moved away, because although Abraham had sent his servant on the journey, the servant returns to Isaac. We do know that Abraham later took another wife. Perhaps he has already departed, knowing that his work for Isaac is finished, and that it is time for Isaac to take over as the head of the household.

The meeting of Isaac and Rebekah is beautiful story, told in just a few understated words. Isaac is out meditating in the field: he is a contemplative man, perhaps communing with God, perhaps with his own thoughts. He looks up and sees a caravan of camels approaching, and probably recognizes it as the delegation his father had sent.

Then we see the other side: Rebekah on her camel looking out and seeing a man walking toward them. She knows in her heart who it is. She gets down from her camel and asks the servant: "Who is that man walking in the field to meet us?" He says: "It is my master"--now referring to Isaac instead of Abraham. So Rebekah takes her veil and covers herself, as a chaste woman would in those days when meeting the man she was to marry.

Isaac takes Rebekah into the tent of his mother Sarah, who had died not long before. Isaac marries Rebekah, and we are told that he loved her, and that it comforted him after his mother's death. That is the happy ending of this beautiful story of love.

Yet we know that marriage is not the end, but the beginning. Marriage is a process of becoming one. In fairy tales, once the hero and heroine get married, that's the end of the story, and they live happily ever after. Wouldn't that be wonderful!

In real life, marriage is just the beginning. The time of courtship, when we are finding our partner, when we are attracted to one another, getting to know each other, making the proposal, and up to the wedding--all of this is like the process of being formed in the womb before we come to birth. When we get married, we can think of it, not as the end of the story, but as the birth of the marriage. That is when we begin our married life together.

We do not automatically become one in spirit just because the minister has made the pronouncement, "You are now husband and wife." Rather, we start a long process of becoming one--if we can truly be one in our hearts and minds. And marriage is a relationship in which we not only become one with our partner, but also one within ourselves.

Those of us who have been married, or who have had a very close friendship, know that over time we come to know and love our partner or our friend in a way that we couldn't at first. We come to know the other person on a deeper and deeper level. It is like the proverbial artichoke: we peel away the layers one after another, moving toward the heart. We know quite a bit about our partner even at first. But as the years and the decades go by, we get to know our partner more intimately and more deeply, and we can become one with our partner at a deeper level than we were capable of earlier on.

Several things are happening here. One is that as we see more and more of who our partner is, we begin to "internalize" his or her characteristics--to use a psychological term. In more practical terms, we come to know the things that our partner knows, and to love the things that our partner loves. So we bring something of our marital partner into ourselves, and we become more like him or her.

Another thing that happens as we live together with a person whom we are very close to is that we go through an internal process of becoming more one within ourselves, in our heart and mind. As we rub edges against one another, we find out where our own feelings and thoughts conflict with each other. We discover ways that the things we say and the things we do don't quite match.

Marital partners are good at showing us where we have work to do. Out in the world, it is fairly easy to keep a mask on, and not show what we are really like inside. But when we are living with someone, it doesn't take long before the masks come off, and the other person knows exactly what's inside of us. In this close relationship, we discover things about ourselves that we did not know before. This gives us an opportunity work on the inner marriage: putting our deepest loves together with our highest thoughts, and becoming person who acts from the heart, with intelligence and thoughtfulness.

As we become one within ourselves, we are also becoming more and more one with our partner, at a deeper and deeper level. Swedenborg tells us that in heaven, married pairs achieve such oneness that they are not called two angels, but one angel. Each does have his or her own presence and individuality. One has the face and body of a woman, the other has the face and body of a man. Yet it is easy to see that they are one in spirit. Swedenborg describes this oneness in a quote that we use in our wedding service:

True marital love is union of souls and a bonding of minds, creating a bond in the hearts and therefore in the flesh. . . . Its everlasting joys are innocence, peace, tranquility, unreserved trust, inmost friendship, and a mutual desire of mind and heart to be of every possible service to each other. (Marital Love #179, 180)

This is our goal in marriage: to find that kind of oneness; that kind of interdependence, peace, and tranquility; that kind of heartfelt desire to be of every service, of every good, to one another. This is something we don't immediately achieve, but that we work for throughout our lives. And this applies to us whether we are married here on earth or not. Marriage is first and foremost something that takes place inside of us. And if it does take place inside of us, then whether or not we find our partner here on earth, the Lord has someone waiting for us to spend eternity with. This is something we can all hope for, aspire to, and work towards.

Turning from our life to the life of the Lord, we know that our process is parallel to the Lord's process. The Lord showed us the way in his outward life, and especially in his inward life. We will never achieve the fullness of union that he did. Yet we can always be working toward the oneness with God that he fully achieved.

In his life on earth, the Lord Jesus was moving toward a full union: toward a seamless flow from the divine heart of his infinite divine love, through his divine mind (the "divine rationality" that we have been talking about in other sermons), into his words and actions. If we watch him in action in the Gospel stories, we see that there is no hesitation in his words. He acts immediately from the heart, but also with great intelligence and wisdom. Looking at the Lord's life, we see the seamless flowing of a spirit that is one within itself.

I hasten to add that we also see times when the Lord struggles within himself. It was not until the very end of his life--until after his crucifixion, until the resurrection--that he achieved full oneness. Yet we can see his oneness illustrated during his life in his interactions with the people, with the scribes and Pharisees, and especially with his closest disciples.

We, too, are moving toward a oneness--though at a finite, limited level, in contrast to the infinite oneness that the Lord achieved. And it takes us a lifetime to achieve the level of inner oneness that we are capable of.

Swedenborg gives the example of learning to walk. When we are little and we are learning to walk, it is hard work. As one-year-olds, and we are determined to get up and walk. It doesn't matter how many times we fall. We keep on trying and trying. We keep on working at it until we are finally able to walk. At first it takes all of our concentration. We may be walking along doing fine, and then somebody says something to us and we look up . . . and boom! Over we go! We can't pay attention to walking and listen to someone talking at the same time. Just walking requires all our concentration.

But as we walk more and more, it gets to be second nature. Soon we don't even think about it. How many of us think, as we are walking down the road, "Now let's see . . . first I have to put my right foot forward, then I have to put my left foot forward"? We don't think about it anymore because it has become part of our character.

This is what Swedenborg means when he speaks of truth moving from the level of our external, material mind into our inner selves. When the truth moves into our inner selves it becomes part of us. We no longer even have to think about it; we just act on it. We experience this in many ways: in having children and figuring out how to raise them; in going into a new career and having to learn how to do work; and so on. Whenever we start something new, it is always a challenge. We have to think hard about it and work at it. Then as time goes by we become good at it, and it becomes second nature.

It is the same with our spiritual life. Whenever we start a new phase of our spiritual life, we have to work at it, we have to try hard, and it seems very difficult.

To give another example from outward life, other day my son Chris was practicing his guitar. He is just fine picking out a melody on the strings. But for some reason he has a mental block about playing chords. We asked him to play the songs that have chords, and he just kept saying, "I can't do it! I can't do it." We said to him, "Of course you can. And if you're not going to, you might as well not take guitar lessons, because you are won't be able to play guitar if you don't play chords." He just kept saying, "I can't do it! I can't do it!" I went upstairs, and a few minutes later I heard guitar chords floating up the stairs. It wasn't that he couldn't do it; it was that it was a struggle for him, and he didn't want to.

That's how it is for us when we turn over a new leaf. It's a struggle, and we don't really want to do it--to speak a nice word instead of a nasty one, to do the dishes when we'd rather watch television, to go the extra mile in anything. But if we can make it through, we get to the point where the thing that seemed so hard at first just becomes a part of who we are, and is built that right into our character.

We get married and become one within ourselves when we have gone through the struggle; when our head and heart have gotten to a point where they work together, and we are at one with ourselves, loving, believing, and doing what is good and right. This is a lifetime process. We go through it over and over again in little ways. And in the course of our entire lifetime we also go through a process of gradually bringing our heart and our head together, centered around loving God and loving one another.

This is what Jesus is talking about in our reading from Matthew. When we put our love into practice, and show our light in our actions, that is when our light is not hidden under a bowl, but is put on stand. We let our light of truth shine when we put it on the stand of good deeds.

We may think that truth is all about believing and talking. But truth is really about acting. It is about guiding us on the right path in our lives. And when, in our actions toward everyone around us--toward our marital partner, toward our family, our friends, our coworkers--we let our spiritual beliefs guide our actions, we are putting our light on a stand. Even if it is hard at first, the more we live out our beliefs, the more our light shines out.

When we can do this, we are spiritually married: our heart and our head are one, and they are working through our hands. And then, as Jesus says, "our light will shine before people, so that they may see our good deeds, and praise our Father in heaven." Amen.

 

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Painting: The Crown of Love
by John Everett Millais, 1875

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Music: Heart and Soul
Bruce DeBoer

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