Friday, September 20, 2019 be a blessing

Later this afternoon I will co-celebrate the marriage of a beautiful young couple. The groom, a United Methodist, the bride, a Jew.  Over the last year, my co-celebrant, a rabbi, and I have met numerous times and exchanged numerous emails with the couple as we have, together, crafted a ceremony that will give expression to who they are and what they intend for their marriage as an interfaith couple.  In a blend of traditional words and rituals from both Jewish and Christian traditions, the couple will make their promises to one another under a rustic wooden chuppah.

In the process my rabbi friend and I have come to love this couple dearly and, indeed, our own friendship has deepened as we have learned from each other.  Our understandings about what is significant in our traditions relative to the marriage covenant are not dissimilar, a delightful discovery in and of itself.  We have had the time to explore questions we have had about our individual traditions in an open and loving way.  As our friendship deepens, it nourishes the young couple with whom we are working.

Central to the couple’s ceremony will be their ketubah, their written marriage contract.  In it they express the desire for their marriage to be not only a witness to their love for each other, but also to be an instrument of healing in the world.

I have had good reason to reflect on this desire having recently celebrated 58 years of marriage myself and having, perhaps, an experiential understanding of what it means to conceive of one’s marriage as an instrument of repair and healing in the world.  Long before the term “open marriage” was coined back in the ‘80s, our marriage was just that - an open and welcoming place for family, friends, parishioners, new acquaintances, even strangers - - anyone who needed a safe place in which to feel cared for and respected, and, perhaps, in which to heal.  This was possible because of the deep and abiding friendship that exists between my husband and me.

Strong and generous friendships, like healthy marriages, become a gift to those around us who are lonely, without family near-by when crises happen - people who are widowed, estranged, suffering with chronic illness, in the middle of divorcing, struggling with kids who are substance abusers, experiencing the fear of aging.

In Genesis, God calls Abraham and Sarah  to “go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make  your name great, so that  you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

        Tradition says that Abraham’s tent was open on all four sides - an image of hospitality and welcome.   No one would have to search for the entrance or the way in.  This aging couple becomes a metaphor for welcome and hospitality. A beautiful story from a commentary called Bereshit Raba reflects on the Biblical text this way: When the Holy One said to Abraham "Leave your birthplace and your Father's house..." What did Abraham resemble?  A jar of perfume with a tightly fitting lid put away in a corner so that its fragrance could not go forth.  As soon as it was moved from that place and opened, its fragrance began to spread.  So the Holy One said to Abraham "Many good deeds are in you. Travel about from place to place so that the greatness of my name will go forth in the world."

Abraham and Sarah are blessed in order to be a blessing.  I have great hope for the future if it is the dwelling place of young couples who dedicate themselves to being a blessing in the world.  In the social and political climate in which we find ourselves at the moment, led by people who “lower the tent flaps” in order to keep others out, who deny the sacred task of caring for the planet, who prefer engendering fear and distrust to building strong functional alliances, we need more and more models of blessing, more of the fragrance of holiness spread abroad in the world. 

For human beings to commit their marriages and their deep friendships to the well-being and healing and repair of the world is not a bad place to start. When this happens between marriage partners  and friends of different faiths it is a witness to the possibilities for the wholeness so missing in the world today.

       So, with the traditional breaking of the glass at the end of the ceremony we will remember that while  under the chuppah all is perfection and abundant love is flowing through and in and around the young couple and their guests, that in the world beyond this sacred space there is also brokenness, violence and injustice.  We will let the broken glass be for us a reminder that "many good deeds are in us."  We will become more mindful of the sacred responsibility to bring the power of love into the world, to repair the world so that it, too, reflects the love and joy and beauty that exist under the open sided chuppah - -  and we will shout Mazel tov! And we will bless the couple, who by their commitment to one another and the world, already blesses us with strength and hope for the future.  May we each become a trace of the fragrance of Holiness in the repair of the world.   Amen and Amen

Vicky Hanjian

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