“May you rejoice and love the one you married long ago.” (Proverbs 5:18)
This is the fifth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter. Today’s blog contains my rendering of Proverbs 5, preceded by a brief reflection.
It was love at first sight when I stepped onto fifty acres of abandoned farmland in Palmyra, Maine, in June of 1973. My search for rural property was over. Situated at the end of an old town road, it opened up into roughly 15 acres of once cultivated fields surrounded by an encroaching forest. There was no potable water, and the nearest power was about a half mile away. But these seemed trivial matters compared to the promise of a bucolic life in such remote and beautiful country. Love, it seems, sometimes blinds the eyes to reality.
And so, the purchase was made, and a year later in May of 1974, I moved to the property with plans to build a stone house and grow my own food. I had more energy than time, more enthusiasm than plans, and more dreams than money. Conditions were primitive – sleeping in a tent, hauling in water, and working with hand tools. None of this deterred me and I pushed ahead – clearing brush and trees, putting in a garden, and hand digging a foundation. I was encouraged to have a friend living on an adjoining property. Still, as the weeks wore on, I felt increasingly lonely and unsure whether I could sustain this life on my own. At the time, Pat, whom I had been dating for four years, was working at a summer camp in southern Maine. One day in mid-July, we took a break from work and drove to the coast. Sitting above the rocky shore with waves of the Atlantic crashing below, I marshalled all my courage and asked her to marry me. For a moment, future lives held their breath as even the angels waited to hear her answer. But, oh the joy when she said yes. Little did either of us know the amazing adventure that lay ahead.
The first reality to hit me was that we would need more than a tent to live in. My priorities quickly shifted, and I decided to build a simple one-room 16×20 foot cabin. Making all haste, the structure was framed and closed in before autumn winds began to blow. In the meantime, Pat and I started corresponding about plans for a wedding the following July.
I don’t remember exactly when Pat mentioned it, but at some point she made it very clear that power and running water were prerequisites to her living in the cabin – non-negotiables as it were. The only problem was that I had no money for such “extras.” Fortunately, power turned out to be fairly easy because the utility company did not charge to install poles and run an electric line. Water was more challenging because drilling a well was the only real option, and that wasn’t cheap. But once again fortune seemed to smile as my parents stepped in and gave us $1000 as a wedding gift for a well (a biblicalesque gesture to be sure). At a cost of $10 per foot to drill, it seemed like we were home free. However, all of this changed when the driller hit the hundred-foot mark and there was no water. I was crushed, and for a couple of days I felt as if my entire future lay in the balance. But then, in an act of grace, the driller continued on his own initiative (either because of pride in his work, or pity on an impecunious young man), and after another 40 feet on his own nickel, hit water at 140 feet. Joy does not describe what I felt when the first rush of water exploded from the ground. Water is life. And for me, water also meant a married life together on the land.
Unless you have ever had to find your own water supply (or lived in an arid climate), you may not understand the religious fervor surrounding water. They certainly know of this in the middle east, where water has shaped the culture for millennia. It has always been the most precious of commodities. The simple principle is “no water, no life.” From the earliest days, the Israelites have been masters of water supplies: digging wells, developing springs, building cisterns, and even knowing the value of dew. And so, it should be no surprise that water is a powerful metaphor in Scripture, which Solomon uses to great effect in Proverbs 5.
On quick reading, Proverbs 5 seems all about avoiding adultery, which it is. But almost hidden in the middle of the chapter are verses 15-18 in which we find water as a metaphor for the marriage union.
Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well.
Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares?
Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers.
May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
These metaphors lose some of their punch for those who have not had to drill for their own water or live with the knowledge of how precious and essential it is for life. But for those who have, the verses speak volumes. I believe the water metaphor represents the sexual union between a man and woman. Verse 15 is clear enough – “your own cistern and well” is husband and wife. Verse 16 – “overflow into the public squares” is any tryst outside of marriage. Verse 17 – “yours alone” is husband and wife. Verse 18 – “fountain” is husband and wife.
The poetry of these metaphors is inspirational, but there is more. At the conclusion of verse 18, Solomon tells us to “rejoice in the wife of your youth.” Although written to his son, it is fairly applied to a daughter – “rejoice in the husband of your youth.” What Solomon is saying here and in verse 19 (“may you ever be intoxicated by her love”) is to be grateful for your spouse. Remember the way you have been served and loved, the kindnesses small and large, the sacrifices, all that you have received and be grateful. Ronald Rolheiser writes, “Gratitude is the true reason for love, and when we try to root our love in anything else … it will invariably be more self-serving than life giving.” (Sacred Fire, 248). The opposite of gratitude is taking something for granted. Whether it is water or a spouse, true love is grounded in gratitude.
The winter of 1974/75 was very hard. Water and electricity were still months away, and a wood stove was my only source of heat. A transformative moment occurred one bright and bitterly cold Saturday morning when I was washing dishes with water I had hauled in from a neighbor’s house and then heated on a camp stove. Something in my mind snapped and I thought, “If I ever have hot running water again, I will never mind washing dishes.” This has stayed with me to this day. Not only am I the chief dishwasher in the family, but I still remember what it was like to be without hot running water. My actions are indeed grounded in gratitude.
Increasingly, I try to do the same thing in my marriage with Pat. I take the advice of Solomon and remember her as the “wife of my youth.” I also remember her for all the in-between years – for her love of our children and extended family. But mostly I remember her for her love and concern for me. Even when we have a tiff, I try to remember and be grateful. This is where my love takes root.
1 My child, attend to every word
of wisdom I convey;
Incline your ear to understand
my insight for your way.
2 By this, discernment you’ll preserve,
discretion you’ll maintain;
Your lips will only speak the truth
of knowledge that you gain.
3 But lips of all adulterers,
drip honey oh so sweet;
Their words like olive oil flow
as smooth as they are fleet.
4 But underneath and in the end,
there’s bitterness untoward;
And danger that is far more sharp
than any two-edged sword.
5 Their feet pursue a deadly path
that go the way of death;
Their steps lead straight unto the grave,
where there is no more breath
6 Adulterers don’t ponder life,
or where their path may go;
Their ways are ever wandering,
but they don’t seem to know.
7 So now, my children, hear me well,
pay heed to what I stress;
Don’t turn aside from what I say,
or from my way digress.
8 Keep far away from those who tempt,
and from this path don’t veer;
Do not approach their dwelling place,
or ever venture near.
9 Beware, or your integrity
will surely slip away;
Your years will go to one who’s cruel,
and hates you more each day.
10 Mere strangers will consume the wealth
that once was held by you;
And all the labors of your hands
will go to someone new.
11 And when your life has reached the end,
what’s left of you will groan;
Your flesh and body fully spent –
consumed unto the bone.
12 Remorsefully, you’ll say these words –
“I hated discipline;
O how my heart despised reproof
at my recurring sin.”
13 “I would not listen to the voice
of those instructing me;
Nor try obeying what they said,
or heeding their decree.”
14 “And now I teeter on the brink
from troubles that I face;
Within the congregation hall,
there’s ruin and disgrace.”
15 Drink water from your private store,
the cistern that’s your own –
A flow of water from your well,
that no one else has known
16 Why should your springs be scattered wide,
without a thought or care;
Your streams of water left to flow
within the public square?
17 But let them be for just yourself,
retain them close to you;
Don’t give to strangers even once –
make sharing them taboo.
18 May blessings from your fountain spring,
and goodness from it flow;
May you rejoice and love the one
you married long ago.
19 My son, your wife’s a graceful doe
with breasts that satisfy;
May you be raptured by her charms,
and love her till you die.
20 Why find elation and delight
with one who’s not your own?
Why fall into a wayward tryst
with one you’ve scarcely known?
21 The Lord sees everything you do,
His eyes are on your ways;
He watches all the paths you take,
they’re all within his gaze.
22 For evil deeds of wicked souls
will catch them like a snare;
The cords of their iniquities
will tightly hold them there.
23 Because they have no discipline,
the wicked die away;
Because of their own foolishness,
their lives are led astray.