A few thoughts on marriage

Like millions of people I’ve been following the last two days at the Supreme Court with interest. It still boggles my mind that we are in a conversation about whether the right to marry applies to some people and not others. It astounds me that a good part of the conversation is about “redefining traditional marriage”. We hear some mention of the long history of marriage as a heterosexual institution and hesitation to call such a relationship between two people of the same gender the same thing. But I don’t want to write about the politics. Instead, I want to share some of my thoughts and feelings about marriage.

 

I didn’t dream of getting married as a child. I didn’t imagine myself in a white dress and heels, in a church, making promises. In my family, invisible husbands were the norm. With few exceptions, what I learned from my family and culture was that faithful men were like the Loch Ness monster– the stuff of legend. From my Liberian and Nigerian relatives, friends and observation it seemed a simple fact that every married man would at some point step out, have a mistress on the side, perhaps even a second or third wife. That’s simply the way it is. Yet in college I began to imagine myself married. It started because I had a dream in which I saw myself, and a green linen suit, barefoot, making promises. That dream stirred something in me, a desire that has remained. I told myself that my marriage would be different from many of the ones I’ve seen. In my marriage we would like and love each other, be faithful not just sexually but also in speaking well of each other, supporting each other, being honest lovingly and compassionately. We would have fun, be integral to a community and raise children together joyfully, among other things. It wouldn’t be easy but we would transform in honoring the commitment.

For me, marriage is fundamentally a spiritual commitment. In fact the legal part doesn’t even make sense to me without it, for myself that is. Islam says that marriage is half of your religion. I wondered why for the longest time. My understanding, as I’ve now been in a couple of relationships where we talked about marriage as a possibility (even going so far as to get engaged!) is that there is nothing like having to really consider, think about and do for a partner day in and day out. Such experiences have expanded my spirit. I rely on my faith to show up every day in my relationship. It is my faith that even makes it possible for me to show up every day. The story of Majnun and Layla (http://www.theosophy-nw.org/theosnw/world/mideast/mi-jcok.htm ) is a powerful metaphor, from a Sufi perspective, about treating your earthly beloved as a microcosm of the Beloved, Allah. What, if anything, would shift in your romantic partnership if you saw your partner as a microcosm of God, or something far bigger than you? Of course this doesn’t hold at every moment: ) partnership has helped me to exceed myself in ways I didn’t imagine I would have to. I’ve learned so much about holding honesty as a central value in relationship, being reliable, emotional intimacy, receiving support and help. There has been tremendous healing in these experiences. Interestingly, as I have grown in my ability to be a good partner both my faith and my spiritual practice have deepened. Inshallah I intend to marry before too long. I am indescribably thrilled at the prospect and excited to see what unfolds through the marriage door. 

Fear in the night

New Moon, Hilal (Rumi)

Remember the story of the young guest

who came before certain King. “And how old are you,

my lad? Tell the truth now. Say it out.”

“18, well 17. 16.

Actually,  uh,15.”

“Keep going! You’ll end up

in your mother’s womb.”

Or the man who went to borrow a horse.

“Take the gray.”

“No, not that one.”

“Why?”

“It goes in reverse. It backs up.”

“Then turn its tail toward your home.”

The beast you ride is your various appetites.

Change your wantings. When you prune

weak branches, the remaining fruit

gets tastier. Lust can be redirected,

so that even when it takes you backward,

it goes toward shelter.

A strong intention can make “two oceans wide”

the size of a blanket, or “700 years”

the time it takes to walk to someone you love.

True seekers keep riding straight through,

whereas big, lazy, self-worshiping geese

unload their pack animals in a farmyard

and say, “this is far enough.”

Last week Wazina and I applied for a big award, big both in terms of money and folks who will be reviewing the application. Angela Davis is one of them! As we were creating the video submission, I could feel myself desire to kind of back away, to remain as “discreet” as possible. Basically I could feel the fear in me of potentially becoming even more visible. Most days I ignore that small voice of alarm in the back of my mind that screams at me every time I post here, every time there is a video or picture of us somewhere, every time our names are connected with this project. It’s the voice that tells me visibility is not safe.  I know, at this point, that that voice is quite illogical in the sense that we are already waaay out there. Not only that but that we made a conscious decision to step into this level of visibility. I really believe in what were doing and why were doing it– the conviction that every body is entitled to a safe, fully expressed life, and one in which faith, sexual orientation and gender identity are not at all at odds. I also believe and trust that Allah has this as part of my earthly purpose at this time, a piece of my divine alignment. From that place I can feel a peace in my heart, a calm. From that place I can breathe and be easy. Sometimes the fear does get me, and the voice won’t shut up. “Are we safe? Are we safe? Are we safe? Are we safe? Are we safe? Are we safe? Are we safe?… What happens when a friend in Nigeria googles my name? Or when someone actually goes to this website after I’ve given them my card?…”

Then I remember all of you who have loved and encouraged us so well through this project, some of you, strangers. To remember this is humbling. Actually it’s moving. Getting a bit teary just writing this now. Thank you. I don’t think you have any idea how powerful your support, your prayers, your silent wishes, your thoughts, your sharing with friends about us, and all the ways you’ve loved and encouraged us, have been for me. Left to my own devices I think I wouldn’t keep showing up in the way that Coming Out Muslim requires. I’d like to do my selectively visible thing and call it a day, but is not the life Allah has given me. That story has not been written for me. My fear would have me lament that. I know better than to believe the stories it tells me. Nonetheless, we need all the love and encouragement you can give! (I think I can speak for Waz on that:-)) Please keep it coming!