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The symbolism and mysticism of a prayer from the Baha’i writings about marriage has forever intrigued me:
Wherefore, wed Thou in the heaven of Thy mercy these two birds of the nest of Thy love, and make them the means of attracting perpetual grace; that from the union of these two seas of love a wave of tenderness may surge and cast the pearls of pure and goodly issue on the shore of life. “He hath let loose the two seas, that they meet each other: Between them is a barrier which they overpass not. Which then of the bounties of your Lord will ye deny? From each He bringeth up greater and lesser pearls.” – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i Prayers, p. 105.
This phrase regarding the “barrier which they overpass not” has always captured my attention. It comes originally from the Qur’an (55:19-22), but I’ve long pondered what it means.
Certainly, when newly married, I tended to do (and wanted to do) everything with my husband. Some of the appeal of that kind of committed relationship is, I expect, a desire that we all have to merge—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—with another human being. Occasionally that happens in marriage, but probably not to the extent that we often hope for. Additionally, there’s the need to balance togetherness with having space to become one’s own person. Maybe that’s where the “barrier” thing comes up again.
To me, this passage implies that my soul’s journey is very different from my husband’s—as it should be. Currently, I am reading a book called “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life” by Dr. James Hollis. I have mixed feelings about the book, but the author still makes some fascinating points, like the following:
Relying on it (intimate relationship) to replace the many other realms we, as spiritual beings, are meant to travel will not only burden the other with our unlived life, but will keep us from that appointment which the soul consistently solicits for us. Companionship, mutuality of goals, sexuality, and supportive endeavors are great possibilities in any relationship, but when we learn that engagement of the soul’s agenda is our real task, that this journey is our real home, then we’ll see that how we use that relationship will either serve, or hinder, that prospect.
Western society in particular puts unrealistic expectations on intimate relationships to meet most of a person’s needs—which they don’t and can’t. After nearly 20 years of marriage, I still tend to focus on those things in our relationship that are missing rather than on the many wonderful qualities my husband has and/or to celebrate whom he wants to be. There’s myself to blame for that of course, but Hollywood and a media saturated with romantic love plays a role too.
Marriage in the Baha’i Faith is highly encouraged both to bring children into the world and, at an individual level, to become a “fortress for well being.” But, it is not a requirement for a fulfilled life. Even for those who do elect to marry, the spiritual connection is emphasized. As Abdu’l-Baha noted:
When, therefore, the people of Baha undertake to marry, the union must be a true relationship, a spiritual coming together as well as a physical one, so that throughout every phase of life, and in all the worlds of God, their union will endure; for this real oneness is a gleaming out of the love of God. – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 84.
Such a bond is ideal, but not necessarily guaranteed. As a humorous aside, I recently learned that Tahirih—an early believer of the Baha’i Faith who promoted the advancement of women—is purported to have said that she divorced her husband in both this world and in the next!
Per the quote above, it’s the mutual connection to the love of God that I think is the main point. If that is the purpose of our lives, as most Baha’is would assert, then we are blessed if we can walk that path with someone else for a time. That may, or may not, be our spouse. We can have equally meaningful and important relationships of this nature with parents, children, siblings, and friends.
The “barrier which they overpass not” may have a different meaning for everyone. But, for me, it has come to signify an agenda of the soul that is, ultimately, a solitary journey.