My friend Kari recently wrote about the liturgy of parenting. While I’m not a parent (though perhaps I will be someday), I’ve been thinking about the liturgy of marriage.
Liturgy is one of those scary church words, calling up images of incense and vestments, chanting and creeds, kneeling and praying and altars and the church calendar. It encompasses all those things. But more simply, Webster’s defines it as “a customary repertoire of ideas, phrases, or observance.” I have heard it defined, broadly, as any sequence of things you do over and over again. My marriage has its own liturgy, one that stretches back four years and is stretching forward into an as yet unknowable number of days.
We wake up side by side, a few minutes before the alarm, and he reaches an arm over to pull me close. We curl into each other like a pair of quotation marks, until the piano music makes itself heard over the whir of the box fan or the oil furnace, and one of us (usually him) gets up.
I wipe the toothpaste off the bathroom faucet, over and over. I tease him, gently, about the clothes on the floor, the dark hairs scattered over the white sink. I tease because I don’t want to nag, because nagging never works, because I don’t want to start off our mornings sniping at one another. I have successfully trained him to make the bed (though I usually do it because he’s the first one up). And he (nearly) always puts his clothes in the hamper, because he can shoot them in like basketballs. He has always been one of those boys who will turn anything into a game of baseball, of basketball, of catch. I am thankful for small victories.
The table is central to the liturgy of our marriage. I grew up in a house where dinner was on the table nearly every night, along with the expectation that we would all be there, together, to pray and eat and laugh and talk about our days. Now, four or five nights a week, six if we’re lucky, we face each other across the dining room table I’ve had since college. (At least once a week, we share dinner with friends, around our own table or theirs.)
We eat pasta and pizza and salad and burritos, soups and enchiladas and other homemade dishes (and, occasionally, takeout) off our red and blue dishes. We use the cloth napkins I bought right after we got married. Sometimes we light candles. We talk about our days, our families, what we’re reading, our jobs. And we laugh.
No one goes to the living room till we’ve either washed and dried the dishes or decided jointly to leave them until tomorrow. I usually wash while he dries, and we step around each other in the choreographed dance of the kitchen, the dance of providing, of tending our home, of creating nourishment to give one another.
We dance around each other in the late evening too, as we brush our teeth, change into pajamas, toss our clothes into laundry hampers or hang them up to wear again. His shoes multiply like mushrooms at the base of his tall hamper. My cardigans and jackets hang on hooks and doorknobs, and once every few days I gather them up and divide them between hamper and closet.
We flop into bed, each with a book. He tackles nonfiction tomes like Kissinger’s book on China, content to stay in one subject, dwell in one set of ideas, for weeks. I save the more cerebral reading for earlier in the day, and for bedtime reading I choose books full of gentle humor and quiet wisdom: Miss Read, Patrick Taylor, assorted middle-grade and young adult lit.
He always turns out his light first (I would read till the wee hours if I didn’t have a day job to go to). I read a few more pages, finishing my chapter, then click off my lamp and reach over to pull him close to me.
We curl into one another like a pair of quotation marks, until one of us shifts or rolls over. Still touching, still barely awake, we murmur, Good night. Sweet dreams. I love you.
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