You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
–Khalil Gibran, The Prophet
“I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other.”
–Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Oneness, or unity, is a central scriptural theme.
”And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” (John 17:11)
“And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another.” (Mosiah 18:21)
“Behold, this I have given unto you as a parable, and it is even as I am. I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.” (D&C 38:27)
“And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:17)
Interestingly, there appears to be something of a twist when we look for the theme of oneness as applied to marriage. I have no way of knowing for certain without extensive research, but marital oneness seems to be quite strictly qualified in the scriptures, expressed mostly as a union of the “flesh.”
“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24)
“What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.” (1 Cor. 6:16)
“ And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh.” (Mark 10:8)
More generally, as with the first set of scriptures above, oneness seems to apply to disparate individuals joining together in a single community, in the sense that Paul says, “We being many are one body in Christ” (Rom 12:5). This is even the case with Christ’s relationship with the Father, where he describes this relationship as something of an intimate divine community, one that his disciples can become members of, one with the Father as Christ is one with the Father.
Oneness is clearly significant within the context of marriage as well, but we can see some obvious differences in the scriptures. In a sense, marriage exemplifies a particular kind of oneness, a oneness that occurs through the joining of flesh to flesh and becoming one body. To be married is to be one flesh, unlike a Zion-like, even “trinitarian” oneness of mind and purpose. This certainly doesn’t mean (and therefore I am not implying) that this other kind of oneness is exclusive to community only; clearly, marriages benefit from shared purposes, experiences, and even preferences and desires where possible. But I nevertheless find it interesting that oneness of the first kind is, as far as I can tell, not explicitly tied to the marriage relationship. On that note, I find Khalil Gibran’s meditations on marriage above to be intriguing. Here, the marriage relationship presupposes, in a way, the communal oneness sought after in the Zion ideal. This is, perhaps, partly because marriage is a covenantal entity that is different from trying to become one with fellow Saints, or at least its covenant is more pronounced and more intimate than the covenants we make with our fellows. The couple makes ritualistic promises to one another that they will, in effect, be with one another forever. These promises are sealed, in effect, through becoming one flesh. In this way, “you were born together, and together you shall be forevermore. You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days. Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.” Gibran begins here, almost parenthetically, practically in order to just get the oneness codified by ceremonial promises and sexual intercourse out of the way, almost as if to say, “It’s there. It’s always there. It’s simply part of what it means to be married. Don’t dwell too long on it or you’ll miss the important part.”
Which is what? Rilke powerfully supplements Gibran’s answer:
“The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”
–Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
To be the guardian of another’s solitude. The marriage relationship is the ultimate symbolic evidence of our connectedness to the world around us, that we are not isolated beings detached from the rest of the world, but that all things are in different stages of oneness and connection. We live and move and have our being in vast webs of life, connected to people, places, things, the earth, in trillions of different ways. We sanctify and codify this connectedness in marriage, by giving our flesh to one of these things in particular, another person, one in whose hands we choose to place that which is most sacred and valuable–our very selves. But once we are married, once the recognition of oneness is established, then the real work begins. Only then, hopefully, do we learn, as Rilke wrote, “Love consists of this: two solitudes that meet, protect and greet each other.”
The work of loving a spouse is the work of holding sacred the spaces that exist between and amongst our togetherness (which is always already there) of honoring the events and choices and views associated with the other individual such that we protect the space that allows these things to exist and flourish. Marriage can, of course, be extremely hard, for reasons most of us are familiar with, either from personal experience or observation. But I’m convinced that one reason it can feel intolerable is because one or both individuals do not protect the solitude of the other. Instead, they seek to shape the other into the image of their idea of the ideal spouse, or, just as destructive, they subsume their own selves in order to become what they believe the other desires. This isn’t one size fits all, of course. There are always situations which prove unendurable for one or both of the parties and a separation is the only charitable and just solution. But I do believe that Gibran and Rilke have revealed something about love and marriage that is a shining jewel of truth: In a genuine, lasting relationship with another, we are tasked with protecting the capacity for the self of the other to grow, become, flourish, to revel in his or her creative freedom. The other ideally does the same for us. And not just to protect one another from external interference (and perhaps most importantly, from our own interference in that flourishing by seeking to mold the other into what we desire), but to encourage and stimulate and love the selves our spouses are becoming. Marriage is a unique and effective vehicle for this kind of life-giving solitude because it is meant to instantiate, model, and hold sacred oneness in a way that doesn’t destroy one’s individuality but allows it to grow and thrive. Within the oneness of the marriage relationship we can see each other as wholes, not as parts of one whole, each with his or her own dreams, hopes, desires, purposes, strengths, and we love one another when we honor and protect those things in the other, the things that make who we love the person that we love. And we grow up, as Gibran says, together–always together–but not in one another’s shadows, for by showing one another this kind of loving trust, we become the suns in one another’s skies.