On the last Wednesday in October, I asked my girlfriend Genevieve to marry me. This was one of the more dramatic moments of my life, but, unlike my usual default setting, I wasn’t that nervous. (As my father, the frequent dispenser of one-line truths and instructions, has told me, never ask a question you don’t know the answer to.)
What helped to make the event peaceful and not-so-nerve-wracking was a small prayer service Gen and I put together. We wanted to mark the beginning of the new stage of our relationship by blessing each other and asking God for continued guidance and love on our journey. One thing Catholicism has taught us is the power and importance of rituals, especially at turning points.
Here’s a brief sketch of the prayer we used. Beyond couples preparing for marriage, I think it could work for parents, families, friends . . . wherever there’s a relationship moving into a new moment. Feel free to personalize it or add new things, and then post some other ideas in the comments section.
Rev. Dan Joyce, SJ, a friend of the Center for FaithJustice, said at a staff gathering that we journey through the world as either tourists or pilgrims. For tourists, traveling is all about getting to the next thing, the next photo op, the next landmark. For pilgrims, though, the joy is in the journey itself. It’s difficult to be attentive to the stirrings of the Spirit if we’re hell-bent on reaching a new destination.
We used “He Will Not Let You Fall,” a favorite setting of Psalm 121 passed on to me by CFJ’s prayer coordinator, Martha Dudich. Sing one out loud, or listen to a recording of a song that centers you if a cappella isn’t your thing.
One thing we’ve heard from a handful of married couples and learned ourselves (quickly) is how forgiveness is at the foundation of any close relationship. We use a short forgiveness prayer from time to time, and discovered that it can be helpful and healing.
Inspired by the penitential rite at the beginning of Mass, we first pause to call to mind those times that we haven’t loved as well as God calls us to love. Then, we each take turns reciting a simple line that apologizes for any lapses in love both large and small, and asks the other for forgiveness. We forgive each other, and then pray that God will continue to strengthen our commitment each day.
We used the Road to Emmaus story from Luke’s Gospel (24:13-35), in which Jesus appears, at first unrecognized, to unsuspecting disciples after the resurrection. This reading called us to consider the ways Jesus had been walking with us on our journey to that point. A rather long passage, we broke it up into chunks and took turns reading.
Silent and Shared Reflection
After the reading, we took turns reflecting on these questions:
Where has Christ joined us on our journey together to this point? Important people, places, powerful memories, simple moments?
When have you not recognized Christ at first, and only realized his presence later?
Where can you find Christ on our journey at this moment?
Prayers of Petition
A few days before the prayer, Gen and I made a list of a handful of key values that we want our relationship to be about – things like hospitality, gratitude, spirituality, justice and faithfulness. It was interesting to give names to the key ingredients that have been lights to our feet. We moved through our values and prayed extemporaneously about each one. For example, for hospitality, one of us might have said: “I pray, God, that we will always be welcoming of others, whether that means making another person feel comfortable in a conversation or inviting someone in a tough spot to stay in our home.”
We took a few seconds to bless one another for the journey ahead. A fancy word for blessing is “benediction,” which literally means to say good things.
So we wished good things for one another. A simple blessing might be something like this:
“Hear, O Lord, our humble prayers, and guide (name) safely in the path of your love, that amid all the changes and chances of this life they may ever be sheltered by your grace. We pray this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.”
Use a poem, prayer or song that is important to you. One poem that’s important to Gen and me is “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” by Wendell Berry.
By the end of the prayer, we felt ready to take the next step. Of course, we had been feeling ready for quite a while. But by gathering important life stuff up in this ritual way, it was like packing our suitcases before a big trip and heading out the door. Our Lady of the Road, pray for us!