My wife and I have an open marriage. Before any friends have a heart attack or misunderstand, let me say that I am misusing this stupid term provocatively to make a point. Nevertheless, the type of relationship we have is the most authentic and open relationship to be found on earth. I will explain.
But first I must apologize for being the latest in a long string of recently-married Millennials who feel compelled to pontificate about marriage. The only reason I justify doing this is that it seems my generation is almost entirely confused about marriage, and youth and inexperience are not necessarily exclusive of true understanding.
A year and a half ago, my wife and I were united in holy matrimony, which is a covenant not only between two people, but between them both and God. What this means is that our relationship is not defined as a closed-off, limited agreement between two contracting parties, but instantiates our complete giving of ourselves to each other, and our openness to God’s presence and guidance. This openness is important because it means God is involved in our marriage and is interested in whether we are continuing faithfully in it.
Openness to God in our marriage is key, because God is the ground and source of our being, and it is to him that we ultimately refer when attempting to understand the mystery of marriage. We learn from his Son that marriage is built into the nature of human beings; that it is God’s design for a man to “leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” We also learn that this mystery itself is a symbol of the Son’s relationship to his people. He is the Bridegroom, he says, and his bride is everyone who he has redeemed from the curse of sin that entered the world through disobedience. In marriage, then, we create an image of the unconditional love God offers to mankind.
Holy matrimony, as a living image, an instantiating symbol of God, is a way of opening ourselves to ultimate reality by establishing a special, sacramental connection to the ground of our being.
This openness manifests itself in other ways. Just as God welcomes anyone into his family, holy matrimony means having a welcoming and generous attitude toward the gift of children, and a commitment to bring those children up to know the love of God. Hospitality and charity too, being ready to welcome and meet the needs of others, are important aspects of the marriage vocation.
What marriage is “closed” to is anything that disrupts the union between one another and God. This is why the church prohibits sexual activity outside of the marriage union. (Law and custom also have powerful reasons to discourage adultery, but those aren’t the subject of this essay.) The marriage union acts out the relationship of desire and affection that draws us to one another and to God. I take the view that our love for God is erotic in the Socratic sense. We are drawn to him with desire in a dynamic, directional movement. Marriage is thus a form of noetic exaltation. Non-marital sex, by contrast, breaks the noetic chain between us and God. It is to some degree an opposite movement away from divine love, receding back into the disorder of primordial chaos from whence we emerged.
The sexual chaos of the modern world is one of the clearest signs of its overall disorientation to the divine ground of being. Not just “gay marriage” and the divorce rate, but especially the direct and indirect sexual exploitation of women and children reveals our age as one of the most severely blind, heartless, and gnostic epochs in history.
“No one is obliged to take part in the spiritual crisis of a society” wrote Eric Voegelin; “on the contrary, everyone is obliged to avoid this crisis and live his life in order” (Science, Politics, and Gnosticism). With this watchword, we reject sexual alienation and instead embrace holy matrimony as an expression of redeeming grace for our time and for all time.