Monday, April 30, 2007

Get Your Fortress On!

"O my Lord, O my Lord! These two bright orbs are wedded in Thy love, conjoined in servitude to Thy Holy Threshold, united in ministering to Thy Cause. Make Thou this marriage to be as threading lights of Thine abounding grace, O my Lord, the All-Merciful, and luminous rays of Thy bestowals, O Thou theBeneficent, the Ever-Giving, that there may branch out from this great tree boughs that will grow green and flourishing through the gifts that rain down from Thy clouds of grace.Verily Thou art the Generous, verily Thou art the Almighty, verily Thou art the Compassionate, the All-Merciful.

I've just returned from Green Acre Baha'i School's Married Couples Weekend, the best course I have ever taken at that august institution in my ten years as a Baha'i. Nine couples of diverse ages and life stages ranging from less than a year married to thirty four years married, were ably guided by marriage educators Susanne M. Alexander and Craig Farnsworth, through a series of exercises, study of the Baha'i Writings and group consultation that helped each couple "walk a spiritual path with practical feet". On Friday evening, we began with the all important issue of communication, including the three levels of listening as well as an exercise to see if we were meeting our partner's emotional needs. Saturday was a really full day of learning, beginning with discussing the importance of gender equality in marriage and introduction to "character qualities" that are described magnificently in the book Pure Gold: Encouraging Character Qualities in Marriage. I highly encourage everyone to go out and buy this book that is filled with practical guidance on how important character is to a successful marriage. One of the most valuable parts of the Saturday morning for me, involved exploration of the "Five Love Languages" and figuring out what my love languages were and those of my wife. Amazing how just understanding how each of us most wants love to be expressed by the other can change things in a snap. After the Love Languages, we moved on to the issue of forgiveness in marriage and what we can do today as we strive toward the ideal given to us in the Baha'i Writings. We also dove into the all important matter of practicing consultation in marriage as a powerful means of collaborative and unified truth seeking and decision making. My wife and I discovered that refining our skills in this area was something that we needed to work on. Luckily we have the rest of our lives to do it! After a break, we got into a section on humor and fun that included a pretty wild exercise with balloons (I won't spoil it, you have to take the course and find out) and then looked at the power of making explicit "marriage commitments". Green Acre treated us to a romantic candle light dinner, which alone was worth participating in the weekend. After dinner we turned up the heat a bit with a section sex and intimacy in marriage which was explicit, spiritual and mature. There was some blushing that went on, but on the whole it was
the best experience I've ever had of
people having a meaningful discussion about sex since I discovered and embraced the Baha'i Faith ten years ago. It was like getting a glimpse of the future as our faith community continues to learn and grow and develop new models of discourse on human sexuality that balance dignity with honesty. On Sunday, we had devotions commeorating the 9th Day of Ridvan and then launched into an exploration of unity and mutual goal setting in marriage. It was a truly fabulous weekend and my wife and I did a lot of gazing into each other's eyes, giggling, and consulting up a storm. I left with a deeper appreciation of one of the statements that Baha'u'llah makes about marriage:

"And when He desired to manifest grace and beneficence to men, and to set the world in order, He revealed observances and created laws; among them He established the law of marriage, made it as a fortress for well-being and salvation, and enjoined it upon us in that which was sent down out of the heaven of sanctity in His Most Holy Book. He saith, great is His glory: "Marry, O people, that from you may appear he who will remember Me amongst My servants; this is one of My commandments unto you; obey it as an assistance to yourselves."
(Compilations, Baha'i Prayers, p. 104)

A fortress, as I understand it, is a structure that is unique in the sense that it is constructed explicitedly to withstand attack rather than simply as a place in which to live. This is true not only for the full-time occupants but also for the wider community around the fortress. In difficult times it serves as a refuge in which all can seek shelter and protection from destructive forces. Of course sometimes the trouble comes from within and a fortress often has even stronger structures within its walls in which one can retreat to when necessary. This fortress not only ensures the well-being of those inside but also provides a protective environment in which souls can develop those qualities necessary for success in the next world and fulfill the purpose of life which is "salvation".

If only this was the way that the majority of Americans viewed marriage. You can read some of the statistics regarding the health of this institution here, here, here, and here. You should also check out Susanne and Craig's work at

I'll end with this selection from the Baha'i Writings about the profound implications for society of the health of marriage and family life:

"Compare the nations of the world to the members of a family. A family is a nation in miniature. Simply enlarge the circle of the household, and you have the nation. Enlarge the circle of nations, and you have all humanity. The conditions surrounding the family surround the nation. The happenings in the family are the happenings in the life of the nation. Would it add to the progress and advancement of a family if dissensions should arise among its members, all fighting, pillaging each other, jealous and revengeful of injury, seeking selfish advantage? Nay, this would be the cause of the effacement of progress and advancement. So it is in the great family of nations, for nations are but an aggregate of families."
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 156)

What do you think about marriage?

Coming Soon On Baha'i Thought: Marriage in Black and White