Of Weddings and Little Promises
It was a warm, slightly sticky evening. Sitting towards the front of a crowd of friends and family, I observed the evening shade slowly growing on the mountains behind my friend. He, in his turn, was gazing back our way with (what I could only guess was) a mix of nervousness, fear, excitement, and joy. For, if the title hasn’t already given it away, my friend was looking past the rest of us toward the spot where his bride would appear. Thinking back on the day, I’ve realized that I’ve seldom been present at a wedding that combined both the solemnity and joy in a way that was both deep and yet down to earth. Between the little things like lights strung through the trees and candles hung in Mason jars, a barefoot wedding party (along with a sprinkling of guests), and showering the happy couple with maple helicopters as they left, it felt a bit like what I suspect a wood elf and hobbit’s marriage would be like. And, could there be two other groups which would better understand how to combine both the celebration and the solemnity present in the event?
One of the advantages of being a teacher is the freedom available for one’s summers. My own summer this year has involved quite a few weddings. Five to be specific. Side-stepping some of the current controversies regarding marriage, there is a specific lesson about the world that we can learn from marriage, even as we debate what marriage is all about.1 Trying to find the words to capture some of my thoughts from the wedding above, I came across a bit of dialogue between Mr. and Mrs. Murry in L’Engle’s A Wind In The Door:
“With my intellect I see cause for nothing but pessimism and even despair. But I can’t settle for what my intellect tells me. That’s not all of it.”
“What else is there?” Mrs. Murry’s voice was low and anguished.
“There are still stars which move in ordered and beautiful rhythm. There are still people in this world who keep promises. Even little ones, like your cooking stew over your Bunsen burner. You may be in the middle of an experiment, but you still remember to feed your family. That’s enough to keep my heart optimistic, no matter how pessimistic my mind.”2
The commentary on the power of our intellect is fascinating in and of itself, but that is a conversation for another time and post. Rather, it’s the reference to promises that jumps off the page. In response, as good readers, we might ask “what about ‘kept promises’ provides the optimism intellect cannot find?”
Perhaps, we would do best to begin by examining our question. In particular, the words “intellect cannot find” are particularly instructive, for they indicate that optimism isn’t something created. Rather it would seem to be something discovered, hiding in the situation and waiting for the right lens to make it jump out from its surroundings. Paul seemed to say something similar when he reminded the Romans, “For in this hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience”3 (Romans 8:24-25). As always, context is helpful. At this point in Romans, Paul is speaking of the coming of Christ’s kingdom, when all will be redeemed. As he wraps up this discussion we will get to the triumphant anthems “If God is for us, who can be against us?”4 and “nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”5 In the meantime, though, we hope for the redemption. And, as Paul reminds us, this is hope because we cannot see the outworking of the Kingdom. At least, not like we will see it when Christ returns. It’s not that hard to agree with Mr. Murry that, “With my intellect I see cause for nothing but pessimism and even despair.”
However, that’s not where either train of thought ends. Paul encourages us to hope and will go on to ground this hope in Christ and his work. In a similar vein, Mr. Murry draws optimism from the areas where he sees Christ at work: ordered constellations and people who keep promises. The king is identified by his work.
And so, as I watch my friends promise a lifetime of promises to each other, I’m reminded that the world isn’t as irredeemable as it sometimes appears to be. There might be plenty of reasons for discouragement, even despair, but here in front of me I can see the hand of my King as he creates another image of himself and his bride. In turn, I am challenged to continue to be a faithful representation of him. Even though marriage doesn’t appear to be in my near future, there are other promises for me to fulfill. And as I faithfully fill my post, others will perhaps renew their hope. Not because of my work, but because in my work they see an image of Christ and are reminded that he is still working in and ruling the world around them.
What recent events or experiences have reminded you of Christ’s rule?
What are some of the “small promises” that are part of your faithful service today?
2. L’Engle, Madeleine. A Wind In the Door (Harrisonburg: R.R. Donnelley & Sons, 2010), 98.
3. Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
4. Romans 8:31
5. Romans 8:39
Photo courtesy of Scott Webb