On taking wedding vows in a church of falling rain
By JAMES STEPHEN BEHRENS
Friends of mine were married, and I was invited to the wedding. It was John and Mary Kays wedding. John was a priest, and Mary Kay was a religious. They had met each other, fell in love, and chose to live their love for God and for each other by marrying. I am sure that it was not an easy decision to follow the path that lay before them.
On the night before they were married, I took a train down to the town where the ceremony was to be. I stayed with John that night in his apartment.
John then lived in a spacious apartment on the second floor of an old house. The house was once a boarding house, and there were still gas jet fixtures, long sealed and painted over, jutting here and there from the walls. The house had a front porch. I went out to enjoy the cool night air and watch the falling rain. I took in what scenery there was to be seen that night. Across the street was a lumber company and a warehouse. I could smell the sweet fragrance of the wood. Within a stones throw, to my left, was a railroad car. The large sliding door to the car was opened. The car was painted green.
It was raining heavily, and we ended up talking long into the night. We settled comfortably in the kitchen. Patches, Johns cat, walked carefully and quietly along the window sill. The walls of the kitchen were a bright yellow. Patches seemed curious about the sound of the falling rain. John ironed his socks as we spoke. I told him I had never seen anyone iron socks before. He laughed and said that was how he was raised.
I heard voices, soft voices and laughter, and asked John where they were coming from. He smiled, and said that an elderly couple next door had built a small gazebo in their back yard, and each night they would retire there for cocktails before supper. It was such a simple and lovely blend of sounds: the voices, the laughter, the falling rain. It was so peaceful. It all seemed imbued with something sacred, something so very ordinary and captivatingly beautiful.
That night I felt a part of a church of falling rain, whispers and laughter, a night of curious cats and so many people more than willing to do whatever possible to offer a new love their support, care and gratitude. That was what was to happen the next day, when John and Mary Kay came from those who came to the wedding. The ceremony was a heartfelt expression of gratitude for the love they had been given through others, a love they would promise to each other.
That was several years ago. John and Mary Kay now have two daughters and are doing well.
Back then I harbored thoughts about the church and how it had to somehow change and catch up with things. I wanted all I knew about the church to be as cozy as the gazebo, as near as the rain, as beautiful as a couples love for God and each other.
I find that I am more patient with the institutional church these days. In my awareness of my own shortcomings and blind spots -- and there are many I am discovering here in this monastery -- I am realizing that the church is a big institution and it takes a long time to come to grips with so many new and wondrous experiences that have graced these admittedly troubled decades. Each of us struggles with the ways of love. There is no part of the church that does not feel the joys and troubles of that struggle.
The church will always be. It will find -- or, better, receive -- the grace needed to stretch where and how it must in order to embrace all that is good and truly human. It will struggle to be what God calls it to be. The stretching starts with people who reach in hope and wonder for what God gives in life and in that reaching may find a painful turn in the road. But it is a road many have walked, and in that walk have invited the church to come and follow.
I took a train.
John and Mary Kay took vows.
The church took a further step down a new but somehow familiar road, a very promising one.
Trappist Fr. James Stephen Behrens lives at Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Ga. His new book is Grace is Everywhere, available from Acta Publications.
National Catholic Reporter, March 12, 1999