Based on a fourteen-year research project, this book explores eight commitments that enhance and affirm lasting partnership. This excerpt is from the first commitment, Centering: "I will create a warm, loving home life and place my marriage at its center."
Whenever I perform a wedding, just before the big kiss, I send couples forth to the "dwelling place of each other's arms." For in marriage, as in life, we come home to one another.
No matter where we are, I believe it is possible to create a sense of home and of sacred space, simply through our intention. The founder of Ethical Culture, Felix Adler, wrote a maxim that appears in many Ethical Society meeting rooms: "The place where we meet to seek the highest is holy ground." What this means is that any place can become a holy place, as long as we bring our most cherished values to bear there. Wherever we go, the sacredness of the ground we walk will be determined by our intent.
Why should our home not qualify as a sacred space? It is, after all, where we rest, gather, and celebrate, where love and comfort are given and received every day. In fact, it is for many of us the single most important physical space in our marriage, a place where layers and layers of meaning are attached to common things. It is a natural place to seek holy ground.
Perhaps it's difficult to see our household in this way because we simply were not taught to think of cleaning up after each other (and other such everyday acts) as a part of holiness. And yet the notion that every place we inhabit is potential holy ground is fundamental to building a spiritually fulfilling marriage. By breathing new understanding into our normal activities, we open the door to enhancing our partnership and our sense of the fullness of life.
In certain early North American nation traditions, with nomads moving from place to place, rituals helped to define the spiritual purpose of the spaces they inhabited. After everyone worked to clear a space in the woods, they formed a circle. A respected elder would then sing special chants while burning incense in four directions-to the east, then south, then west, then north. This signified that the space would be in harmony with the natural environment, so that a nurturing of the spirit of the people could occur within.
A former Hindu neighbor of mine used to light incense to "clean" the air in his apartment in preparation for entering the inner sanctum of family life. Often when the sweet odor drifted up through my window, I stopped and thought about the deeper meanings of his family home and mine. I remember thinking at the time how so many of us have cut ourselves off from the spiritual purpose of space.
There are numerous ways to lay claim to the sacredness of your home. Mezuzahs on door posts are miniature encased scriptural passages that Jewish families can touch upon entering as a reminder of God's presence there. A bound stone at the entry to a Japanese tea garden announces that you are about to encounter another, gentler, and more ordered world. A crucifix on a wall tells you that no matter how deep your suffering, you are never alone. These images are especially powerful because they have all sprung from shared hopes and dreams about how to find fulfillment together.
In the days following the tragedy of September eleventh, American flags were draped on, in, and just outside of homes all over the country. These flags were eloquent statements of sorrow and solidarity, of patriotism, hope, and protest. Some households, with equal fervor, displayed peace symbols on placards. We each have our own particular set of values we broadcast to the world. Most important, we remind ourselves of our highest ideals each time we see those symbols in our home.
We can intentionally bring things into our home to increase the feeling of sanctuary in it. For example, if plants or tea candles soothe you, do you have enough of them scattered about for this purpose? During our wedding ceremony several decades ago, my husband Hal and I had friends ring little bells at various points just for the whimsy of it. Afterward we strung the bells together with a length of wool and hung them on our front door. For many years the sound of tinkling bells was the first thing to welcome us, our friends, and our family. They reminded us in a wonderful way that we were entering a safe space.