“Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire. – ”Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
On February 14th, whether people choose to celebrate; a third century martyr as their patron saint of lovers, or for secular reasons, it doesn’t change Valentine’s message; “love one another as you love yourself.” This seems rather straightforward, however, “the devil may truly be in the details.” Frequently, our inability to love ourselves in a healthy way hampers us from loving and being loved by others in a healthy way.
John Denver may have sung a self-fulfilling prophecy: “It’s by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, to be so in love with you and all alone…” He wrote dozens (?) of love songs, achieved world fame and fortune, but sadly, ended up divorced from the one true love of his life that he immortalized in “Annie’s Song.” Not surprisingly, “Annie’s Song” is not Annie (Martell) Denver’s favorite; she actually preferred, “Perhaps Love” which John recorded with Placido Domingo. The song is filled with hope, dreams and passion, but with the melancholic caveat “perhaps.”
Eric Fromm wrote the classic, “The Art of Loving,” in which he described physical, mental and spiritual love, including the importance of loving God. In a huge irony, he ended the book by suggesting that the failure to learn how to love will be the downfall of Western Civilization. His marriage ended in a bitter divorce.
I frequently referred to Scott Peck’s, “The Road Less Traveled,” which included poignant examples of people striving for full humanness through physical, mental and spiritual growth. It was on the New York Times “top-ten” list for over 10 years and has sold over 10 million copies. He suggested that the greatest cause of human suffering in the US is the inability of people to “delay gratification.” In yet another sad irony, in his book, In Search of Stones, he admits that extramarital affairs led to his divorce and estrangement from two of his children.
Of the current 193 world nations, among those of over 100 million people, the US ranks #1 in per capita income and yet the marriage success rate is currently a paltry 50%. The rampant abuse of legal and illegal drugs (including alcohol) bears witness to masses of people not living in a state of loving harmony with themselves and others.
We had been married 15 years when Christie mentioned that she thought it would be a good idea for us to attend a “Marriage Encounter” weekend. I was “very busy” and thought our marriage was “just fine.” However, I agreed to read the pamphlet, which made matters worse. The weekend would not be held at a beautiful rustic retreat center, but at a Howard Johnson’s Hotel, along a freeway at Dublin, Ca.
However, after arriving at HoJo’s, it soon became clear that the beauty of the weekend was not scenery, but in the extraordinary mystery of marriage. The theme was Christian; however there were no clerics and the focus was on marriage and not evangelism. Basically, 12 couples, with dynamic marriages, agreed to spend a weekend sharing the secrets for their success. Some of the couples had been married 10 years, some 20-30 and one couple had been married 40 years. All of them radiated joy and love and many acted like newlyweds. Each couple presented a 20-minute talk, after which we were allowed to return to our room and discuss the points they made. There were no right or wrong answers, only creative ideas. We were encouraged to verbalize how each idea made us feel. One of the great lessons I learned was that “feelings are not right or wrong.” I was surprised and embarrassed to discover that I had wasted 15 years trying to make Christie feel like I felt. This process is usually easier for females and it took me a while to achieve something that came more naturally to Christie.
Each couple was unique and offered many constructive ideas. They did not discuss intimate aspects of their marriage, but one couple blushed as they shared that by focusing on the mental and spiritual needs of their partner, the intimate moments became more passionate and frequent. They admitted that, as “practicing Catholics,” this was a highly intriguing discovery. The thought of spirit-filled couples having dynamic sex lives had never occurred to me. I am smiling as I write this because I recently saw a nationally known psychiatrist (PBS) mention that the sex department in the female brain is located next to the new-shoe, flower and chocolate departments. One of the men described marriage as the original Hegelian Dialectic. He noted that females know and do things that males cannot know or do and visa-versa. And, it is only after total commitment that they are able to achieve levels of physical, mental and spiritual awareness that could not be achieved separately.
However, Billy Graham once quipped, “Show me a marriage without arguments and I will show you a marriage where one spouse is not necessary.” Our marriage was not without disagreements, however, the communication skills we gained were highly valuable.
Marriage Encounter proved to be an “ICU” experience designed to make good marriages better. We attended 35 years ago and in 4 months (God willing) we will reach 50 years of marriage. Needless to say, June 20 will be a once-in-a-life-time Valentine celebration.
Happy Valentine’s Day!