An elderly couple once asked me to help them celebrate their 50th
wedding anniversary with a renewal of their wedding vows, and as well
as a reading from the Bible asked if we could read a passage from a
children's story. A quite ancient children's story, in fact, and I
must confess I was a little skeptical until I read it for myself.
Written in 1922 by Margery Williams, 'The Velveteen Rabbit' seems to
have remained in print ever since, and I recommend it for lovers of
all ages. The velveteen rabbit was of course a stuffed toy, and like
all nursery toys came to life and had deep and meaningful
conversations with all the other nursery toys once the humans had gone
to sleep. The velveteen rabbit had noticed that it was, in fact, a
stuffed toy, and yearned to be real - and so consulted with the oldest
and wisest toy in the nursery, the Skin Horse.
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that
happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just
to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse. "But when you are Real you don't
mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," the toy rabbit
asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It
takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to toys who
break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.
Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved
off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very
shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are
Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
The elderly couple standing together in the church were certainly real
- radiantly real - and Claire and Rod it is our hope for you that over
the years ahead you will become just as real. St Paul's advice –
written to a fractious church in Corinth who thought they already knew
it all – is about becoming real. And so are the teachings about love
from Buddhist writer Thich Nhat Hanh. Love in fact is the only way of
becoming who God created you to be: the only way of growing into who
you most truly are, paradoxically, is to give yourself away without
holding anything in reserve and without trying to protect yourself
from the knocks and bumps – or from the sadness and heartache that can
be the flip side of a love that sees its fulfillment and greatest joy
in the good of the beloved.
The Bible, unsurprisingly, talks about love all the way through, and
in the very first couple of chapters offers as the basis for the love
between a man and woman the fact that – created in the image of God as
we are – capable of wisdom and beauty and compassion – we also know
ourselves deep down to be incomplete. Popular culture has a germ of
the same insight – I guess - when it counsels us that somewhere out
there for each of us is The One. In the mythological story of
creation in the Book of Genesis the archetypal man and woman – ish and
ishah - are created by God as complementary opposites, drawn together
from the first ungendered human whose name – adam – means 'creature of
the Earth'. In the one whom you recognize as bone of your bone and
heart of your own heart, you find the opportunity to learn the lessons
of patience and forgiveness and trust, and the capacity for delight
and gladness that gradually form you into the wholeness that God
intends for you.
German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once had this advice for a young
couple about to be married. 'Don't expect', he told them, 'that the
love you have for one another is what will sustain and nurture you
through your marriage. On the contrary, it is marriage that is going
to sustain and deepen your love.' Like becoming real, learning to
love the one to whom you promise yourself is a lifelong affair. As
you enter into marriage today, you are not just putting the seal on
the love you already share, but committing yourselves to learn to love
one another through all the seasons and all the circumstances of your
In her book, The Irrational Season, writer Madeleine L'Engle had a few
words to say about her long marriage to actor Hugh Franklin,
commenting that the reason their marriage had endured probably had
something to do with their decision never to eat breakfast together.
She also had this to say:
…. I've learned something else about family and failure and promises,
as well: even when a promise is broken, the promise still remains. In
one way or another, we are all unfaithful to each other…. We do break
our most solemn promises, and sometimes we break them when we don't
even realize it…. I can look at the long years of my marriage with
gratitude, and hope for many more, only when I accept our failures.
The reading we heard from Teachings on Love also reminds us of another
fact so often forgotten in a culture fixated on individualism and
personal fulfillment. Your love for one another, if it is life-giving
and unselfish, invites you into an attitude of love and reverence for
the whole creation. Because the love that makes you real is a love
that is open and encouraging and inclusive – as opposed to what
sometimes passes for love, that is possessive and jealous and
limiting. To be grounded in the love for one another that believes in
one another's best despite the occasional blooper is to be secure
enough to imagine and to strive to become the best that you can be.
Your love for one another – that I pray will become the unquestioned
ground and secure home of all that you can dream or accomplish – grows
in the womb of the love that shapes the whole of creation and so
invites you into an attitude of wonder and humility. Charity – or
caritas, which means love – begins at home, but if that is where it
stays then it was never truly begun. As you grow in love for one
another you come to understand the love that is the appropriate
response to the needs of others and to the vulnerability of the Earth
itself. This is a way of living that is grounded in the Wisdom
spirituality of the Hebrew Bible – a way of living that finds lessons
in the humble creatures and living systems of the earth, and loves
justice and generosity.
Claire and Rod, as you begin your married life, practice together the
humble and foundational virtue of kindness - the grace of never taking
one another for granted, of being careful with the raw and tender
places in one another's lives. Become real together, be fiercely
protective of one another's dreams and believe in one another. Grow
together in love and in wonder at all that is, and spend yourselves
 L'Engle, M., (1977),The Irrational Season (The Seabury Press, New York)