Fifty-five years ago tomorrow, Caroline and I promised to “love”, “comfort”, “honour” and “keep” one another. At no stage did Caroline promise to “obey”. From the start we were a partnership. I dare to believe that that understanding of marriage as living in partnership together is the secret of any successful marriage.
This concept of partnership has its roots in the second creation story, where God said “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner” (Gen 2.18). I believe that the two words used to describe the woman are highly significant.
In the first instance, the woman is described as the man’s “partner” (Revised New Jerusalem Bible, NRSV; REB) or “companion” (GNB). According to Bishop David Atkinson, the word “seems to be related to the verb meaning ‘to be plain or visible’. A related noun refers to an “eminent’ person…. So perhaps … ‘a helper matching his eminence’ or ‘his distinctiveness’. It certainly points to one who is fit to stand before the man, opposite him, as his ‘counterpart’, ‘companion’ and ‘complement’.” (The Message of Genesis) Similarly, George Knight, a Presbyterian wrote: “The Hebrew… means ‘a complete vis-à-vis’, a helper who fits him ‘exactly, his ‘opposite number’. And so it describes an intellectual equal” (Theology in Pictures). Or as Trevor Dennis, a former Vice-Dean of Chester, suggested, “a helper to match him” (Sarah Laughed).
In the second instance the woman is described as “a helper” (NIV, New Revised Jerusalem, NRSV). Unfortunately, this term to our ears can suggest an ‘assistant’. But the Hebrew word used is found fifteen times in the Old Testament to describe God: e.g. Psalm 33.20; 89.18-19; Deut 33.29. Furthermore, as Trevor Dennis noted, the word “almost always refers to one stronger than the one who needs the help” In the words of Alice Ogden Bellis, an American scholar: “She is created to be a strength or power equivalent to Adam” (Helpmates, Harlots and Heroes). The woman is not man’s inferior or humble assistant: she is able to help on a common basis of equality and status. The ‘help’ she offers is not just help at work or in begetting posterity, but according to Lutheran Claus Westermann is “help in the broadest sense of the word, a mutual help in every sphere of life” (Creation).
Although I cannot pretend that Caroline and I have done together a detailed study of this passage, we have lived in partnership, respecting one another as equals, and over the years supporting one another in our different callings – and have enjoyed the experience! So tomorrow we will celebrate our Emerald Anniversary.
What precisely the gem emerald has to do with a 55th wedding anniversary, I am not sure. For the Ancient Greeks emerald was associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of love; similarly, for the Romans it was associated with Venus, their goddess of love. For the ancient Egyptians it was a symbol of fertility and life. For Archbishop Rabanus Maurus of Mainz (786-856 AD) the emerald “expressed the strength of faith in adversity” (!). I myself rather like the way in which John in his vision of God almighty saw around the throne a rainbow that looks like an emerald” (Rev 4.3), which reminds me of God’s covenant love with us all (Gen 9.12,13).
Whatever the precise reason for linking ‘the beautiful green emerald stone, sometimes known as ‘the king of jewels’, with 55 years of marriage, I rather was associated with a 55th wedding anniversary, I think Google hits the spot when it comments: “Like emeralds, a marriage that lasts 55 years is an extremely rare find indeed. To commemorate such a dazzling event the couple, friends and family members should be at their most inventive to ensure the big day is celebrated in glittering style.” Tomorrow we shall be coming to the end of our visit to Canada to see our eldest son Jonathan and his family in Vancouver, and all being well we shall celebrate with panache!
An amended version of what I wrote in my latest book, Growing Older. Our Story of New Adventures and New Horizons. Electronic and printed copies of this book, 215 pages in length, are available from me, for £5 – plus postage for the printed copies. For further details email me at paulbeasleymurray.com.