Liguori Publications, Liguori, Mo.; 2011; $15.99
It never occurred to me before reading Isabel Anders’ new book how apt the ever-loved Prayer of St. Francis is for married couples. But Anders startled me to full attention with this prayer in the early pages of her fine collection of ancient and modern prayers, blessings and reflections – all presented “as potential guides for naturally incorporating prayer into a marriage.”
Think about it. God is petitioned in the Prayer of St. Francis to “grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that are born to eternal life.”
Don’t those lines relate rather directly to the needs and hopes of most married couples?
What I liked best about Anders’ “Blessings and Prayers for Married Couples” was its down-to-earth approach to spirituality for married couples. Here couples will find prayers to employ when making decisions, or after making a mistake, or when faced with money problems, or during a crisis.
“Teach us how to be not only more kind and tolerant of each other’s mistakes but also more understanding of each other’s occasional lack of judgment,” a couple might pray in words borrowed from Rene Bartkowski’s “Prayers for Married Couples.” In a prayer from Ruth Harms Calkin’s “Hold Me Close,” a weary couple prays:
“Please rest us. We’re thirsty. Give us Living Water! We’ve fallen flat on our faces. Pick us up! … We’d like very much to give up. Hold us very close.”
One of Anders’ own prayers, presented in the context of a reflection on the wedding promise to take each other “for better or for worse,” pleads with God for “continued strength and grace to remember the sun when it is not shining, to believe in God’s care and love when we cannot know outcomes, and to endure with each other through uncertainties and fears.”
Souls are nourished even by difficulties, Anders suggests. In this light, she comments that the vow to take each other for better or worse is “a necessary component to a loving commitment that can withstand the inevitable storms of married life.”
Anders structured her book around the promises couples make when they wed. Thus, for example, the book includes prayers and reflections related to the couple’s vow to have and to hold each other, to love each other in sickness or in health, or in good times and in bad.
What is meant by a couple’s promise to “have and to hold”? A prayer by Anders offers insight here. A wife and husband ask God to help them “learn to laugh together, to cry when needed, to pick ourselves and each other up from where we may have fallen – and to go forward together.”
Anders, an Episcopalian, is a longtime writer and editor in Tennessee whose works have been published by Catholic, Lutheran, Evangelical and Anglican publishers. Among her other books are “Simple Blessings for Sacred Moments” and “Becoming Flame: Uncommon Mother-Daughter Wisdom.”
She describes her new book as “a montage or tapestry of ‘marriage enfleshed,’” that is, marriage as it is embodied in the lives of actual couples. A hope of hers is that the book will serve as an opportunity for readers to remember the “points at which God has ministered” to them “as a family, as a couple, as an individual.”
Numerous passages in the book reflect on the workings of marriage. Does that mean it should be read straight through? It could be, I suppose. But the book’s real value lies in its usefulness as a continuing resource for husbands and wives who want to meditate on marriage and begin to pray within their marriage.
The book should make things easier for couples who find it awkward to pray together at home. For example, a couple’s wedding anniversary might be a good occasion to turn to an anniversary prayer by Anders that reads: “On this our wedding anniversary, we focus on the many blessings of our years together: the sharing of the cup of sorrow and joy …, the blessings that have exceeded all hopes.”
The prayer thanks God because through the oneness granted them in earthly flesh, a husband and wife “are more that the sum of two persons,” and when they pray, their “efforts are doubled.”
A number of blessings collected in the book seem appropriate for engagement celebrations, anniversaries and even times when couples face unique challenges. I particularly enjoyed these lines of a blessing from “9 Ways to Nurture Your Marriage,” by William and Susan Rabior:
“May the days of your marriage be joyous and rich. May you find shelter and safety in each other’s arms, respect and reverence in each other’s heart. May your friendship be faithful and firm, your trust total. And may you remain young at heart as you grow old together.”