A Reflection for the Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Like lovers in movies from the ’50s, Jack Broughton collides with Della Miles on a street in St. Louis, and two very different people fall in love. They are both children of preachers, but there the similarity ends. Jack is a ne’er-do-well son of a Presbyterian preacher in Iowa. He is white. Della is a schoolteacher and the pride of her father, a Baptist preacher in Memphis. She is Black.
These lovers meet in Marilynne Robinson’s newest novel “Jack” (2020). If I had to pick my favorite novelist, I would choose Ms. Robinson. And if asked about the best theologian writing today in North America, I would again choose Ms. Robinson, though that would mean my Catholicism deferring to her Calvinism.
There are occasions when life seems complete, when we no longer glance at the time, wondering what comes next.
After they have confessed their unlikely love to each other, Della notes a turn in their conversation. “Isn’t it strange that I could hardly wait to see you, and you were longing to see me, and here we are talking about hard-boiled eggs.”
A little defensive, Jack says, “You brought it up.”
Then Della offers a response both utterly romantic and totally theological. A graduate seminar could spend a week reflecting on what she says.
“I just mean it’s strange that there is nothing more I want from life. If I could imagine an eternity of sitting here with you talking nonsense, there’d be nothing more I would want from death. I mean it. And I’m a good Christian woman.” Her voice was very calm, but there were tears on her cheeks. He touched them away.
There are occasions when life seems complete, when we no longer glance at the time, wondering what comes next. There are moments when we can simply revel in the goodness of God, when we can side with Della and say that such junctures alone could suffice for our slice of heaven.
Marriage is supposed to be just such a moment or, better, a string of them. And for many people, much of the time, it is. There are setbacks and struggles, yet when they pause to consider their spouse, they can confess no greater channel of God’s loving care for them. That is why marriage matters. Its countless shortcomings cannot close this singular stream of grace. If you have been loved by your spouse, beyond what you merit, despite your sins, you cannot say that you do not know what grace is.
The list of failures and disappointments in marriage is long, but just as our sins cannot cancel the goodness God gave us, marriage remains a singular channel of God’s grace.
Having acknowledged marriage as “the one blessing not forfeited by the flood”—to borrow words from one of our nuptial blessings—we can go on to admit that many people never marry. And that many people marry only to find that it saps their strength and drains them of life itself. They have no choice but to close off the loss.
Still, marriage tells all of us, happily married or not, that we were made by love and for love. God created each of us to seek and to find love. We were created to discover in the lives of other human beings the source of life itself, God.
Marriage has no monopoly on love. Indeed, you need to have known love before you marry if you hope to find it in marriage. And if your marriage is healthy and blessed, you sow and reap love beyond your relationship as a couple. It flows into a fruitfulness, giving life to all who draw near.
The list of failures and disappointments in marriage is long, but just as our sins cannot cancel the goodness God gave us, marriage remains a singular channel of God’s grace. We speak of falling in love because, even without Christian vocabulary, we recognize human love as God’s grace, active in our lives. Like Adam, God’s presence overwhelms us, settling us down into a slumber where we cease to struggle. Then we awake to see the goodness of God, incarnate in the one who stands at our side.