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What would you think if you heard a wedding vow like this:
“To have and to hold—
only for better,
but not for worse;
only for richer,
but not when we’re broke;
when you’re healthy and fit,
but not when you’re old, sick, or lose your looks;
to love and to cherish,
but as long as my feelings exist for you” ?
Why do the traditional wedding vows bring up such desperately unappealing, miserable topics as bad times, poverty, illness, old age, bad change—in body and in attitude? Such depressing things to mention at such a happy moment! Likewise, why are the scriptures, including the gospels, are saturated with such topics? How in the world do we derive hope from this?
It’s because reality has little resemblance to Disney-esque picturescapes of life: we know deep in our heart of hearts that much of life, most of life, is out of our control. Life has pain, poverty, injustice, ugliness, inequities, sickness, and should life last long enough, old age. Even the most wonderful moment of our life (the wedding) we voice that acknowledgement. Why? because it creates hope that tempers the reality of life. To have the comfort of hope, the accepting arms of a loved one in the midst of our want, we are less crushed—indeed, we are sustained and nourished at heart. In a marriage, the spouse cannot remove or fix the ills in our life, however he/she can be there for us: an act that puts heart into us (which is the root of the word “encourage”).
This is the root of love: a promise to be there for the other. It is an act of the will, and derived neither out of mere obligation nor mere inclination, but, bedded in a love and respect for you and carried out by the spouse’s one-time, and yet repeated, decision to fulfill the words of my will spoken in that vow.
God knows we require persistence in persecution, persistence in boredom, bearing up in flat times, hard times, dark times, a loss of feeling of happiness. It is in the darkest of nights that we find the deepest of comforts. It is in the glow of a wealthy and healthy glorious morning of our soul, that we require neither comfort nor strength.
John 15 wraps up the truth about love and supplies several promises or vows. In this chapter, Christ sandwiches this unglorious and unwelcomed truth of being persecuted between two blankets of love. He begins with the promise of love and friendship from Christ himself—and love and comfort from fellowship as well as a command to love one another (verses 1 through 17).
Following the promise of persecution from haters Christ promises to send the paraklete (verses 26-27):
“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.”
παράκλητος or, in Roman script: paráklētos, is interpreted one who consoles or comforts, who encourages or uplifts; refreshes, who intercedes on my behalf as an advocate. English translates it in many ways: the Helper, the Comforter, the Advocate.
I think of the Holy Spirit having two types of overlapping roles. First, as a kind of a “patrón” —he who can graciously confer a worthy subservient person (me) with the authority I do not have. The patrón seeks my betterment and, as important, He has the means to see it come to pass.
Because of His high status He can and will advocate for me: I haven’t the leverage nor influence He has to persuade powers on my own behalf. In this respect advocacy surpasses, and is superior to, mere legal terminology (hence my preference for patrón).
Second, the Holy Spirit is family: the best analogy is that I am the adult who discovered I am not an orphan but I have a parent who has been trying to reach me for decades. Once we meet, I can for the first time-and for the rest of my life-enjoy the comfort of being able to “go home.” To go home to a place where I am accepted not challenged, not compromised, not burdened, where I can let my hair down, put on slippers, get in sweat pants, and sit down to specially prepared home-cooking. The paraklete gives me support, comfort and compassion: or, help, love, comfort, and warmth within.
All this love (like the wedding vows) hinge on asking, receiving, and deciding to be persistently intimate.

A Lasting Fire

Not the quick flare
of Duraflame’s pine
chips and chemicals

roaring up the flue
until the sham fire
smothers and dies,

but the yellow whisper
of a single match
small as a pen nib,

palm-cupped and
yielding its secret
to splinters. Then heat

will follow a ceder
curl’s rim to catch
a split stick, wishbone

oak and skinned
poplar. Who keeps
a careful vigil,

lending skill
and breath, will see
the pile of twigs

ignite, the heart’s
every fiber shedding
the steady light

of splendid method
and calm conviction
slowly going wild.

by R. T. Smith