Hi dears…long time, no post. 🙂 I have a series of friends’ projects I’ve been hoping to be able to share about, though, and here is the first…
I’ve had a document open to write this review for weeks now. My friend Katherine Willis Pershey, whose beautiful work Very Married: Field Notes on Love and Fidelity is, assured me I didn’t have to do this – she was aware that writing about a book on marriage some months after my husband of thirteen years died of cancer could be – well, shall we say, “triggering.” But I wanted to read what she wrote – and I’m glad I did. This is, indeed, a good and helpful book.
Writing about marriage takes some chutzpah, really. Every marriage is a different organism, the unique result of what happens when you splice together two unique human beings, with vastly varying histories, experiences, stories, bodies, and all the rest. So creating a “how to make a happy, fulfilling marriage” system is nearly always a failure (although it doesn’t prevent lots of folks from taking cracks at it).
Katherine largely avoids this trap with beautiful, simple storytelling, wickedly funny and poignant by turns. She lets us have a glimpse of some of the inner workings of her own marriage, vignettes that allow her to reflect on all manner of marital challenges and joys – casting light from several angles on the uncomfortable ways in which being *that close* to another human being of necessity reveals your own wounds, your own self-will, your own broken edges. She crosses over theological terrain with generosity – you will find no demonizing of either complementarian theology or same-sex sacred marriage here, folks – and she is winsomely self-deprecating and honest about her own temptations and failures within the marriage she and Benjamin have created. One of the primary strengths of this book is Katherine herself, and the way she is able to offer her wise, gracious, humorous, pastoral presence in these pages.
There is something else that is worth highlighting. Katherine shares a story about a friend of hers who is engaged in a risky friendship with a co-worker to whom she is attracted. The friend is sharing a bit about this relationship with a group of other women, and there is a moment when the balance of the group sways between simple affirmation (which, as Katherine rightly points out, is the direction cultural pressure often presses women) and gentle confrontation. Katherine asks the “rude” question that leads to a conversation full of honesty, difficult truth-telling, and ultimately a holy change in trajectory. “It struck me,” Katherine reflects, “as a powerful testimony to the influence of healthy, honest, open friendships.”
This, I believe, is wisdom that we all – married, single, widowed, divorced – need. I can’t talk about my husband’s cancer and death without telling the stories of friends who walked alongside me, alongside us. These holy friends have told me the truth with love, and such truth-telling can, in fact, be life-changing – over and over again. At its best, marriage can be such a holy friendship: friendship and somehow sacramentally more than friendship. We celebrate those beautiful marriages that – in their mutual self-offering and love and willingness to do the work of suffering and growing together – have the capacity uniquely to embody Christ’s love for the church. But even when the ideal promised in a “good marriage” goes terribly awry, holy friendships – relationships of trust and honesty, holding pain and hope together – can hold broken spouses fast, helping them grow toward the union with Christ that is always God’s gift to those who seek it. We do nothing in this life – even marriage – alone. Thanks be to God for that. And thanks be to God for voices like Katherine’s, who hold truth and hope together, and call us all, no matter our state, to a more perfect, Christ-formed love.