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.
Genesis 24:67 (NIV)
I was in my late twenties and early thirties when I first began to ask a lot of questions about the systems and roles that influenced the child I was, the young adult I grew into, and the adult I became. For me, it is a worthwhile journey of self-discovery and understanding that continues as I progress into new stages of life. There are so many formative pieces of self that I did not, and do not, control. At the same time, there are so many pieces of life that I do control. As the Serenity Prayer so aptly requests, I have found that wisdom is required to know and embrace the differences.
Today’s chapter is fascinating on multiple levels. It tells the story of Abraham sending his trusted servant back to his family and tribe; The family and tribe he left when God initially called him to his faith journey back in chapter 12. The intent of the mission is to secure a bride for his son Isaac from his own tribe. The chapter describes this mission in detail and with it, we get a glimpse into the marriage customs of the ancient near east.
Perhaps it’s because I have officiated a host of weddings along my journey, but I have always been interested in marriage customs and rituals. What’s fascinating to me is the genuine lack of specificity given in the Great Story regarding marriage ritual or customs, and the genuine, legalistic rigidity with which institutional churches, denominations, and members become entrenched despite there being zero biblical support for most all of it.
Once again, I’ve found it helpful to be honest about what is essential (e.g. sacrificial love, spiritual union, honor, intimacy, fidelity, consideration, separation from the childhood family system and the origination of a new family system together) and what is completely absent in scripture (e.g. engagement rules, betrothal rules, and/or wedding ritual, and what exactly determines the moment and reality that two people are “married” to one another). In today’s chapter, Rebecca leaves her family, is led by her fiance into the tent of his deceased mother. BOOM they are married.
Was there a ceremony? Doesn’t say.
Was the act of sexual intercourse a determining factor? Doesn’t say.
Is it possible that the spiritual union of a man and woman that transforms them into husband and wife can and does happen without a marriage license from the county, a church official making a pronouncement, and a public wedding ceremony? Doesn’t say.
Is it equally possible that a man and woman can get a marriage license from the county, have a church official pronounce them married at a public ceremony in front of many witnesses, and yet never experience the spiritual union that transforms them into husband and wife? Doesn’t say.
And yet, along my spiritual journey I have observed many human religious rituals that don’t appear to have any transformative spiritual effect. I’ve also observed spiritual transformations in individuals that have nothing to do with any institutional religious ritual or involvement.
Today’s chapter describes how families arranged a marriage in ancient Mesopotamia which bears little resemblance to the free will engagements two people make in modern American culture. There are no specifics about what exactly made the marriage other than an agreement, two people entering a tent, and the fruit of love.
So in the quiet this morning, I find myself asking a lot of questions that don’t have specific answers in the Great Story. And, while I don’t have a lot of specific answers, I find myself comfortable with the conclusion that marriage as described in the Great Story is not about paperwork, cultural tradition, and religious ritual. It’s about sacrificial love, spiritual union, honor, intimacy, fidelity, consideration, separation from the childhood family system and the origination of a new family system together. There’s wisdom in knowing the difference.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.