That marriage is what we make it was never truer than it is now. The old vows and the old meanings no longer seem to fit. Here is how two people came to understand their commitment and how that was reflected in the meditation of Vivienne Hull for their wedding ceremony. Peter, Kirstie and Vivienne are all members of the Chinook Learning Community on Whidbey Island in Washington.
Creating A Marriage Contract
by Peter Sugarman and Kirstie Lewis
IN 1983 THE TWO OF US found ourselves deeply involved in evaluating our relationship. We had known each other for more than two years and we felt it was time to take a step of deeper commitment, but the traditional cultural form of marriage both attracted and repelled us. We had both been married and divorced previously and were not eager to recreate what we felt were the limiting characteristics of marriage. For each of us, the years since divorce had entailed a spiritual search and we had separately begun to create lifestyles that reflected what we had learned. We wanted our spiritual beliefs to be reflected in our relationship and we wanted to be very clear about specific issues, such as parenting, livelihood and sexual commitment.
Because each state has its own set of legal dictates regarding issues of marriage like ownership, individual responsibility, property rights, dissolution, etc., signing a standard marriage license would entail the arduous task of finding out just what these dictates were. To simply sign the license, thus promising to adhere to a state-sanctioned contract, without knowing all the legal implications seemed to us irresponsible. The idea of writing our own marriage contract was a positive alternative to this dilemma.
Drawing up the contract provided a structure within which we could discuss issues related to an anticipated lifetime commitment before the issues became problems. In the process we expressed and clarified our beliefs and values, reached consensus on each issue, and were able to state our agreements. A counselor helped facilitate exploration of interpersonal issues, such as sexuality, and helped us to clarify our common values and goals. Our lawyer then helped us create the contract as a legally binding partnership agreement that superseded governmental intervention in those matters which we specified (names, relationships with others, spiritual practice, children, careers and domicile, care and use of living space, property, debts and living expenses, termination of the contract, and decision-making). We included in our contract a commitment to seek counseling/mediation if we could not agree on essential issues at any time in the future.
We are pleased with the final result. It gives us a way to make a public declaration of our love and commitment that reflects our particular needs and values. The contract is also, for us, a living document. We have pledged to reread it each year, to reaffirm our unity as we continue to grow, and to make changes as we agree upon their necessity.
At the same time, we feel part of a larger, shared, planetary process. The following excerpts from the marriage meditation, written for our wedding by Vivienne Hull, gives a clear sense of what we feel is this spiritual purpose underlying our union. Together these two documents contract and meditation provide a firm foundation for our marriage.
A Marriage Meditation
by Vivienne Hull
I HAVE THOUGHT MUCH about what marriage represents, not only for you both, but for us all, for it seems to me that in our lifetime something important is shifting – something key to a new and fuller understanding of what it means to be an individual, what it means to be in relationship, and what it means to enter into the communion between two people that we have given the name of marriage.
In the old days, it is said, a man and a woman fell in love, married, and lived happily ever after. And for some, it might indeed have been true. But in the old days, I think marriage was that relationship into which two people entered in order to become whole, in which a man and a woman came together to fulfill each other, meet each other’s needs, and establish their own separate family pattern. And these were good and important goals.
But today we live in a new and, in many ways, more complex time. A time, we believe, when a new order of life for the human family is seeking birth – through our individual lives, our relationships, our families and our communities. Marriage, therefore, requires of us something more than before.
Marriage represents a step beyond individuality, and beyond relationship as we have known it before. It represents the powerful bonding of the universal and the particular – of that which we, in our inner understanding, know as God, and that which we know as our selves. Marriage is the conscious invocation of a greater Communion into which two individuals, already whole and each unique, now step. It is a symbol and a reminder of the essential interdependence of all parts of life and of that which links souls together through time.
In this sense your marriage cannot be separate from the greater order, or Communion, of which you each are a part. For as you consecrate your marriage to serve this Communion, you add to its presence and its power in the world, and thus help it become more available to others.
All new beginnings require much of us. Inherent in the step you now take is your willingness to be changed – so to grow. You are being asked to move beyond individuality and into creative partnership, yet without losing the uniqueness of your own true selves. You are being asked to recognize and honor the differences between you, seeing them as gifts which in no way diminish the other, nor justify holding back from each other, but instead enable you to become more understanding, compassionate, wise, supportive, respectful, and loving, and to look upon each other with ever increasing regard and thanksgiving. The celebration of your diversity and the affirmation of the essential unity permeating and surrounding your partnership is a key responsibility your marriage asks of you – for it marks a step every one of us must learn to take if we are to become a united and peaceful human family.
And so, as you come together in a new bonding, you are acting not only on your own behalf, but on the behalf of us all. You are given to each other, therefore, not to meet each other’s needs, nor primarily to make each other happy – though without a doubt a great measure of joy and fulfillment and fun will be yours to share. You come together because God, in the grace of her love and the mystery of his will, holds out to you a common calling, a work that is yours to undertake together. You come together because our world needs new models of how men and women can live, love, create, and serve together the building of a new order of life and new future for the human family.
And not only for the human family at that. But for the sake of the Earth and of all sentient beings – for the great trees, and the great whales, for all the miraculous diversity of life it is our privilege to know, learn from, and join with in the unfolding story of who we are, who God is, and what it means to be truly alive.
The commitment symbolized today reflects on a physical and public level a consecration that has already taken place. The Communion of this greater life will meet you and nourish you. It will free you and serve you as you serve it. It lends its blessing and its grace to you. It is a power you can count on. Call on it. Let it mediate your differences. Let it magnify your love. Allow it to change you and to create new life through you. Let it fill your home. Give it away! May your marriage be richly blessed – and may you live happily, together, forever.