Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:24
A young woman at Duke University recently sent a Powerpoint presentation to a few friends. It featured the 13 guys she slept with in college, with photos, ratings and lots of (unnecessary) details. It went viral, which is unfortunate.
Even more unfortunate, it was her honors thesis: “An Education Beyond the Classroom: Excelling in the Realm of Horizontal Academics,” although I doubt it will help her get a job. Or at least not the kind her parents may have expected, sending her to Duke. There is another whole essay here about the failure of higher education today.
But let’s deal with the most important issue first. This was a huge contrast to the two engaged couples who had lunch with us Sunday, for whom virtue is not only about keeping silence but also keeping chaste. I don’t know much about their romantic history, but I do know they want a a lot more out of their life together than the student from Duke will ever experience, or even imagine.
We were talking about what the Scripture means when it says a husband and wife become “one flesh.” It’s much more than physical, otherwise the young woman from Duke would have experienced it 13 times, when she has, in fact, never experienced it at all.
Instead emotional and intellectual fidelity combine with the physical to create a sense of oneness that, as Jesus said, is created by God himself.
Older couples sometimes describe this joyful oneness, the pleasure of companionship rooted in shared stories, sacred silences and extreme gratitude. But I was heartened by the willingness of both couples sitting on our porch yesterday to seek it early and often by reading together and spending time together in ways that extend and sanctify the pallet of delights.
One of them, Betsy, referred to a poem by Anne Bradstreet, the first woman to publish a book in the American colonies. In writing about her husband being away, she asks:
My head, my heart, mine eyes, my life, nay more,
My joy, my magazine, of earthly store,
If two be one, as surely thou and I,
How stayest thou there, whilst I at Ipswich lie?
It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? Much more interesting and important than an honors project at Duke, apparently.
And the answer is that it is God’s work, as surely as salvation itself. Or, as Bradstreet puts it:
Flesh of thy flesh, bone of thy bone,
I here, thou there, yet both but one.
This design for marriage is rooted in creation, not comparisons. And it is worth waiting for. And worth cultivating, with comfortable routines, thoughtful interactions and, well, even married sex.
But the wonder of this “one flesh” union, the joy of it, the glory of it, the pain of it, these are all gifts. We hold them lightly and treasure them more, so awed by their fragile beauty as to protect and cherish them in every way.
It’s a mystery. And an honor project that matters.