Holding the symbols generously: marriage, child-rearing, and existential purpose

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Does marriage hold meaning outside of convention? If all lives end, then isn’t marriage’s “permanency” a passing illusion? Don’t the joined souls ultimately separate in the great beyond or, if they remain merged, doesn’t that merging collapse any notion of their being separate to begin with? The same could be said of child-rearing; if the act is meaningful, then that meaning is itself precipitated on illusion, the illusion of the self’s being an individual thing which can or cannot extend its longevity. Once we realize that all selves are mental constructs, the act of birthing and raising children itself becomes moot.

And yet there is a different perspective from which these acts matter deeply, whether or not they stand the test of time. That is the perspective from which we as beings hail from some primordial all-ness, an essence to which our very individuality testifies. As a condensation of this dynamic, if love is a value at base of all things, then marriage can be seen as a consecration and celebration of that love; it is an agreement through which love’s essence becomes visible, through which it is made manifest in order that we can see and measure it. Similarly, it could be said that child-rearing is an act through which the universe’s fundamental creativity—and our requisite generosity—are realized; by making something new that we would be incapable of generating on our own, we simultaneously speak to the mystery by which all of life is born, that mystery of which we ourselves, too, are products. To summarize all this in a phrase, there is a perspective by which symbolic acts exemplify the qualities which make up the universe itself. 

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This may sound hoity-toity or abstract, but it is my philosophy regarding our purpose in the universe in general. If we are here for any reason, then I believe it is to make manifest, to make palpable and visible, things which would remain silent and opaque if not for our existence; by living, loving, suffering, losing, we give voice to the substrate and codes of existence which otherwise would go unknown. Perhaps “unknown” is too strong a word: but if these qualities, these realities could be felt and known, then they could not be experienced; and that, I believe, is the purpose of our lives: to generate experience, in order that the all-ness which is divinity can understand itself. 

So hold the symbols generously, would be my admonition. When walking down the path of something like marriage, know at once that it is ultimately minute, that there will be a time and place where your “lifelong” commitment by necessity expires; and know also that whatever duration your marriage lasts is sufficient, that the act itself makes love real in a way that it could not be without your input. Holding hands, silent togetherness, shared meals, playful strokes while sleeping… these acts themselves are of divine order, celebrating God’s creation in a way that fulfills our singular, existential duty. And so with child-rearing, just as with work, worship, cooking, eating, love-making, and all else we do. The symbols can mean precisely everything in the world through their portrayal of that which, deep down, we know ourselves to be—while at the same time meaning precisely nothing, withering into oblivion before our very eyes.

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