Last week I married the woman I met by email just two years ago. She's Australian, and most of our friendship was established in cyberspace before we actually met. I still remember the strange tension of seeing Cathy for the first time after months of correspondence; virtual presence suddenly become incarnate. Not exactly a theophany, but there was a shepherd there (a Baptist pastor, to be honest).
Less than two years later, in the midst of a Dunedin summer, I married her. It was a small wedding down by the sea. We wanted to avoid the fuss and expense of a huge ceremony in order to make it more meaningful. We climbed the cliffs at the end of St Clair beach, and there with the wind ruffling our hair and the waves crashing in against the rocks, certain words were exchanged.
Yes, I married Cathy. To Andrew, who is her new husband. My wife was present. It's handy to be a celebrant, and available to help out your friends. This is not the story of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, manufactured by the dream factories of Hollywood. On the other hand, it is a very fin de siecle story. I think it says something about being human at this end of the century. Let me tell you how it happened.
Andrew is something of a retro-hippie. He wears bare feet wherever possible. Cathy describes him as a pirate, partly because of his long beard, and partly because of his bucacneering character. He changed his surname to Lorien, a la The Lord of the Rings, and his signature is a delightful elfin combination of squiggles and dots. He rides a bicycle through inner-city Sydney.
Although he works in the Customs service, that tells you little about Andrew's life. He enjoys the work, but his real passions are food and computer programming and theatre and improvised music and alternative worship. For many years now he has been a part of Plunge, a community of mostly Christian people seeking to be church in a way that makes sense to them. He suggests that in these times, perhaps we should be of the church but not in it.
Cathy is/was a Christian cyberpunk. When I first encountered her, she had bright green hair. In earlier years she stomped angrily around the world, preserving her fragile insights by creating a protective force-field of antagonism. For a while she encamped in a cave on the remote mountains of cyberia. And then, like a techno-prophet, she came down from the hills to spread dreams of a different way of Christian gathering.
Now she is a central part of Café Church, a weekly community with the byline 'Life's too short to drink instant.' It is like no church you've ever seen before. The broken moth it with their dusty wings. Cathy is an artist and a photographer, who earns money by free-lancing in graphic design. But the real story of her life is glimpsed in the tribe of tropical fish she cares for, the films she watches over and over, and the late-morning breakfasts at the Craven café across the road.
WORDS BY MIKE
DESIGN BY CATHY
After they fell in love, which took the best part of two days, Cathy and Andrew didn't know what to do. They found themselves in a pulsating flux of expectation, the name of which was marriage. For months and months they wrestled with it. They talked to friends, consulted their communities, talked long into the night. They turned the idea over, held up to the light, and looked in vain for a way to make it fit.
Here was the nub of the problem: how to live together with each other and God, and yet avoid all the sub-scripted agenda which goes with being married. They'd watched friends marry and move out to occupy isolated encampments distant from the tribe that once sustained them. Both had experienced the horror of observing the 'big wedding', where a couple became passive actors in a grand drama circling about them. This was to be avoided more than an early-morning session with Benny Hinn.
So it was that we set out from home on a Friday morning on the ten minute walk to the beach. There were six of us in total. On the way to our destination, we passed a road sign which said 'Extreme Care', and another that advised 'No Exit'. Undeterred, we clambered our way up to a rocky crag above the wild southern ocean. It felt very much as if we were on the edge of the world, and of course, we were.
We took a moment to acknowledge the presence of God. I spoke of some of the reasons we were there, and acknowledged the crowd of unseen witnesses. All their friends and family had been told the day before (by email) that this was to be the day. Then Cathy and Andrew spoke to each other. Not the prescribed and rehearsed words common on such occasions. They spoke from their hearts.
Cathy told of her journey toward Andrew, and of some of the painful experiences along the way. She spoke of her generation walking on the shards of broken promises, and how difficult it was to hope, let alone promise her life to another. Andrew had been married before. He reflected on how it was now to be committing himself again after one set of promises had proved impossible. With a tenderness tinged with realism, he retraced the way in which his life had led him to Cathy.
The wind tugged, the sea churned, the gulls cried. We cried. I told them they were now married. We prayed for the help of God in meeting the demands of an unknown future. It was one of those times when the present nuzzles up to eternity. Afterwards we went to a café called 'The Church' which is located in a very fine building which was once a church. At least you could now get good coffee there. It's a sign of the times, as someone may have once said.