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Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying, by Amy A. Kass and Leon B. Kass

It is a commonplace belief that the health of a civilization is directly related to the well being of its families. It is also commonsense to affirm that families are stronger when marriages are sturdy.

Sound courtship, marriage and family require discernment. However, here stands the most difficult task. As well intentioned as we are, we seem to be floundering with those issues and ideas that are central to who we are as Christians, citizens, members of the Church and participants in the broader American culture. Marriages, for that matter are relationships that exist within various contexts. Anyone hoping to understand and live faithfully within these contexts, needs to give greater attention to theses matters. Our particular moment in human history presents us with unique opportunities and challenges.

How do we cultivate character, heart, imagination, intuition, will, manners and morals in our culture that seems to be profoundly resistant to the wholesome development of these areas of human being and human actions?

There are many tools and resources that can provide some guidance when attempting to come to grips with the weightier matters of life. Also, most of us, at various points within our lives seek the wisdom of others. Usually when we are about to make a major decision we recognize our own limitations. We may turn to parents, grandparents, trusted friends, or members of the church for guidance.

Another source of wisdom is what G.K. Chesterton called, “the democracy of the dead.” Chesterton strongly believed that the wise men and women who have gone before us but left a written legacy could continue to be a source of profound wisdom through the ages. This is the basic idea behind the anthology by Amy and Leon Kass. The readings they collected in this volume represent some of the soundest advice on love, courting, marriage and family life ever provided. While reading this book you engage in conversation with the minds of Homer, Thomas Aquinas, Herodotus, Plato, Erasmus, William Shakespeare, Leo Tolstoy, Jane Austen and Miss Manners.

The pieces range in form also. There are articles, essays, poetry, and scriptural excerpts. Guidance is supplied regarding courtship, praise of marriage, friendship, shame and love, vows, marital intimacy, and the real nature of family. The tone is sometimes serious, sometimes light-hearted. Some of the authors are extremely “meaty” and require several re-readings to gain greater understanding while others are rather simple and immediately accessible.

One of the most enjoyable and impressive aspects of this anthology is the rich introduction. The introduction could easily stand as a primer on courting and marriage. There are several questions that should be asked by anyone considering marriage. Among the many important questions that are proposed, here are some (pp. 3,4, 9 Introduction):

•Am I really in love, or is this mere infatuation or just plain lust?

•Is my love for him or her reciprocated?

•Do I as a man (woman) love in the same way as she (he) loves as a woman (man)?

•Do we seek the same things from one another?

•Is there a difference between being-in-love and loving?

•Can this love I have (or am in) last?

•Is there really somebody out there who is my destiny?

•Why get married?

•Is this love I feel a good enough reason or guide to marry?

•Do our differing family, ethnic, or religious backgrounds and commitments matter?

•Will I lose my independence or identity in marriage?

•What exactly do we think we are undertaking when we decide to marry?

•Is our love needy or generous?

The editors also assist the reader by describing the various ways courting and marriage are understood within our current culture (p 6, Introduction):

1) A sacrament bestowed by God

2) A covenant based upon the exchange of pledges

3) A contract entered into on the basis of calculation of mutual advantages

The foundations of marriage vary for many and are typically one or a combination of the following. The question that must be answered is basic. Is it possible to sustain the marriage union grounded with one or more of these? (p 6, Introduction)

1. eros (sexual attraction)

2. friendship

3. duty

4. economic gain

Marriage may be thought to exist primarily (p 6, Introduction):

•to provide the proper habitat for nurturing offspring

•for rearing the next generation

•for perpetuating one’s traditions and ways

•to promote personal fulfillment and private happiness

•to render mutual service to one another

•to perform the task of loving the one to whom it has been given me to love.

The various readings touch on the drama of love, relationships, family and community by describing the human condition. Our condition reflecting these experiences include but is not limited to “shame, modesty, refusal, adornment, flirtation, courtship, display, approbation, acceptance, rejection, beautification, illusion, vanity, coquetry, aspiration, flattery, wiliness, seduction, jealousy, the desire to please, and the search for self-esteem…”(p 8, Introduction).

The readings are selected not because they are “old” or “great” but because the authors see them within the wisdom-seeking tradition. The truth is that part of the benefit of an anthology is that one encounters voices significantly different than our own and moves us to reevaluate our convictions. Sometimes this exercise solidifies sometimes this endeavor qualifies.

It must be noted, as with scripture, not all readings are fitting for all people at all ages. Some are for more innocent ears and others can only be appreciated by those who have experienced more of life. As with all anthologies, there are even some readings that simply do not seem to fit with the larger scope and purpose of the volume. Some of the readings should even stir the Christian reader to search the scriptures for God’s response.

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore

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