Monday, August 07, 2006

Velveteen theology

(A wedding sermon from the weekend. The text of the Velveteen Rabbit can be found here.)

It is traditional for a preacher to base his remarks upon the reading from scripture – well that’s one tradition I’m going to ignore today – I would instead like to discuss with you the deep theological truths shared in the story of the velveteen rabbit, the velveteen rabbit who wants to be real, and in the end becomes a real rabbit, in a lovely image of the resurrection – that hope on which all other Christian hopes are grounded. Because this language of becoming real is very important in today’s culture, which is so profoundly unreal and has made an art of forgetting all that makes us into real people

To begin with the velveteen rabbit is a gift to a small child - and at the heart of the Christian understanding of the world is the idea that everything is a gift, for which we give thanks. Now there are some obvious ways in which that is true today, for today we give thanks that the world is such a place that two people have found someone to pledge their life to, to love - that the world allows this happiness. And it is important to give thanks for this, that two people have met someone else who is, in truth, God's gift to them - a phrase that might be misunderstood. Normally if someone thinks that they are God's gift to the world, it means that they're arrogant and think they're much more important than they really are. That's not what I mean. I don't mean that this other person is the answer to all your dreams - not in a shallow sense although in a profound sense I pray that that is true. I mean that this other person is from God to you, and so your marriage is a place where you meet God, the sacred, and in meeting God you in turn are made sacred, because it is the place where God’s grace can enter your life. This is why the church calls marriage holy matrimony for calling it holy means that God is present – officially it is a ‘sacrament’ – it is something sacred that makes you sacred – makes you sacred because of the love shared.

This is what the skin horse knows - the skin horse tells the rabbit that to become real he must be loved, and, because he has to tell the truth, because only the truth is real, he tells the rabbit that it can be painful – the sharp edges get removed – stitching might come undone... This is what happens in the married relationship – a softening needs to take place – sharp edges often rooted in our personal histories need to be worn down by love – it’s the truth underlying the phrase about ‘loving each other to bits’ – and as with the velveteen rabbit it is more true with each passing year, as I'm sure the long-married couples here can confirm - as the bits don’t work so well or lose their shape – and we should all ponder the truth that the skin horse speaks - that “it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept”.

It is when you face those sharp edges that you are brought up against the reality of the other person. You have to pause, take stock, and face this wondrous, marvellous, beautiful human being whom today you are committing your life to. And that applies especially when it isn’t as obvious as today that this person is wondrous, marvellous and beautiful. When their sharp edges do stick in, or when their fragile nature becomes clear. This is where the real work of love begins, it is where the loving work of being real begins, and it is here that marriage becomes sacred, for in learning to truly love one another, you begin to know what it means to share in the love of God – that love which is the most real thing in the world.

This is god’s gift in a marriage – there is a theological phrase which the church uses to talk about these things: ‘loved into being’ – it describes God’s call on each of us – leading us to life – we are called by love, we are formed from love, we are formed for love – we are each loved into being – and that is something at the heart of a real marriage, where you love each other into being – this other person with whom you are now bound together, and who shall be the most real thing you are exposed to.

N____ and N_____ – love each other to bits – love each other into being – and above all be real – don’t get distracted by the world, teaching you that the stick out handles and whizzy bits matter – which is, of course, how the skin horse describes nice cars and big houses and well paid jobs – don’t believe the world that these things are important, that they are real. They’re not. The only real thing in life, the only true thing in life, is love. Remember this day; remember the promises you have made; and remember to give thanks for this gift of a real person to become real with, until your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. These things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.

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