Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Will they or won't they?

Yesterday, at my local library, I found the newest publication in a series of mysteries, I Shall Not Want by Julia Spencer-Fleming (see Novels of Faith and Murder under Places to Go). It's the sixth installment of the Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mysteries that take place in the fictitious Adirondack town of Millers Kill, NY. Clare is an ordained Episcopal priest and a captain in the National Guard flying helicopters; Russ is the chief of police in this would-be sleepy little town.

(I picture Julianne Moore and Robert Patrick playing the two of them in my mind's eye.)

The two friends end up solving murders while their friendship evolves into something more. At the end of book five, All Mortal Flesh, things get pretty complicated between these two engaging characters.

A few chapters into I Shall Not Want the two of them seem like they are finally going to consumate this long-standing passion between them when they are, of course, interrupted. It got me thinking about this ancient story formula, the journey to the lovemaking bed.
Whether it's in soap operas, books, movies or plays, the force behind the lovers is the physical consumation of their love, not a church service. The wedding/marriage is also desired by the audience but only secondarily to the bodily and spiritual joining. The promises made in the marriage covenant are an outward sign of an invisible reality, that the two are one. How can one make such promises without ever experiencing the actual joining itself? The physical joining binds us to one another in a way that words can only try to approach. But the ritual is necessary to declare to the world that our reality has changed, that where we were one, now we are two; where there were two, now there is one.

In my parents' day, if you had sex with someone, you married them: a poor excuse for marriage if ever I heard one. What I'm speaking of is lovemaking, a mystical union of flesh and spirit. I'm not advocating having sex with every person we find attractive. But when a relationship has progressed to a certain point, when two people begin to intertwine their lives in such a way as to say "I want to grow old with you", then yes, the physical, mystical union occurs before the promises.

It's like waiting to take communion until you've been confirmed. How can one confirm something they've never experienced?

When I counsel a couple for marriage who have been living together, I ask them, so what difference will a wedding, a piece of paper make? Usually, they answer that they want to commit to this inner reality they've been experiencing, that they want to acknowledge their union in front of family and friends--and God, and declare it real. Experiencing that kind of union can be kind of scary, to admit that we need another human being in our lives so we can give someone our inadequate, imperfect love. I don't blame them for waiting and wanting to see how it goes before they make their promises.

As for me and what I did? That's private business. But it intrigues me, this heart-pounding, wrenching pull toward this physical union, as ancient as David and Bathsheba, and older, that compels to us to read a story as in no other way. Will they or won't they? How? And how will it change the relationship and the story? That's the real mystery, isn't it?


Jan said...

I haven't read a good mystery for a long time, so I'll look up this author. Thanks.

Cynthia said...

I started with All Mortal Flesh but if you want to get in on the ground floor of Clare and Russ's relationship, start at the beginning with In the Bleak Midwinter.

Andy said...

Great post, my friend. Both for the mystery recommendation and otherwise.