Thursday, August 18, 2011

Read Gibran to Celebrate the Catholic View of Marriage

One of my favorite bloggers, Jennifer Fulwiler, has been critical of the reading from the poem, “The Prophet” by the Christian Poet, Kahlil Gibran, at weddings. The title of her August 15 column in National Catholic Register is entitled “Please Don't Read This Poem at Your Wedding.” I disagree.

The summary of her view of the poem is:

“Though it was published in 1923, it's an eloquent articulation of our modern culture's new understanding of marriage. In this view, the individual is more important than the family unit. Marriage is seen as a path to self-fulfillment for each spouse, where protecting yourself trumps self sacrificial love, and personal autonomy trumps all.”

My view of the poem is almost opposite of hers. My wife and I (married 50 years+) raised our children during the 60s, 70s and 80s and as a father was always proactive in finding ways to counter the distorted and dysfunctional understanding of love, marriage and family growing in our culture. I recognized in “The Prophet” a counter cultural celebration of the Catholic view of marriage and family. When I read and studied John Paul II “Theology of The Body” I thought often of this poem.

When it came time for the Fathers' contribution to the reception speeches, I read from this poem at all my childrens' wedding receptions.

From the verses on Marriage:

“You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
and let the winds of the heavens dance between you.”

My commentary: The idea that God is not not a part of marriage has always been around but in the 60s and 70s this godless idea of marriage captured a large portion of our culture. It is one factor in moving our culture's view of marriage to the sorry and confused state we find it today. Gibran sees it differently.

“And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow”

My commentary: Why do the temple pillars stand apart? Obviously so that God may enter. The same with marriage; leave space in your marriage so that God may enter.

“Love one another, but make not a bond of love:”

My commentary: I encounter many young people whose concept of love (and marriage) is that one is possessed by the other, that you disappeared in the relationship. It feeds the related idea that men and women are equal in all things and that sexual differentiation is not important. Also secular humor pictures marriage as 'giving up freedom' (bondage) whereas the Christian view is that love sets us free and that freedom is a necessary element of self giving love.

From the section on Children:

“They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you they belong not to you.”

My commentary: Our modern secular culture preaches a sort of dualism that would describe the body as property that belongs to the person and by extension the view that babies (feti) are one's personal property and can be disposed of for any personal reason. Gibran sees it differently.

Jennifer made this same point about pro abortion philosophy in her August 12 posting on Gibran, Jennifer and I certainly are on the Catholic side here.

The beauty of Gibran's poetry continues:

"You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies,
so he loves also the bow that is stable."

My commentary: What a beautiful image of the Catholic teaching about the co-creative nature of sexuality and the importance of stable husband and wife families in raising children.

This poem is not a church document, it is not theological essay and it is not an argument about culture. It is a poetic celebration of the Incarnation, the life giving message of the Son and his promise to be with us via another mother. This poetic promise obviously points to the Church and our belief that the Church is the body of Christ in the world.

As the 'Prophet' departs for heaven we find the moderator alone;

“And when all the people were dispersed
she stood alone upon the sea-wall,
remembering in her heart his saying,
'A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind,
and another woman shall bear me.”

The celebration thus end with the Pentecost promise!

To read Jennifer's whole posting click here. Her essays at NCR as well as her personal blog, “Coversion Diary” are among my daily reads.

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