My husband and I were both virgins when we got married.
That alone makes us statistical anomalies, since over 90% of American adults have had sex before their wedding day, and the number of evangelicals who have is not much lower (around 80%). But the fact that we didn’t sleep together until we were married isn’t particularly interesting.
The interesting thing, to me, is that I know at least eleven other couples (that’s 22 individuals) who were also virgins before they were married. They’re all close friends of mine.
Given the statistics, that is positively remarkable.
I’ve tried to figure out why such a large group of us were able to do what almost nobody else does in our culture. We all go to the same church, but we’re not a particularly spiritual bunch of people. We don’t talk about God all that much, and we dress and behave like most other secular people. (Note: this is not something I’m proud of.)
It’s not our church, either, because just as the last of us were getting married, the cohort just below us experienced an explosion of unwed pregnancies.
So what was it?
Sure, one major factor is that we all married quite young – almost all of us were wed between 19-24 years of age (one was 28, and we felt very, very sorry for him for having to wait so long). It’s a lot easier to put off having sex when you don’t have to wait until your late twenties or early thirties.
But the most important contributor, I believe, is the fact that we had each other.
We belonged to a tight-knit community of like-minded young people wherein waiting until marriage was the norm. We talked about it openly at sleepovers and on trips to go see theatre productions. We shared hysterical wedding night stories (one friend confessed, “I thought I was going to have to call 9-1-1!” and we all died laughing. You probably had to be there). We openly voiced our fears. Engaged girls would talk to married girls about their struggles to stay pure, and asked for advice and prayer.
There was no punishment-reward system in place, no fear of shaming. We just did what was expected of us. We expected to wait.
But this is not a post about virginity. This is a post about church.
* * *
Earlier in the year, I told you that the one word I was embracing for 2013 was Holy. I wanted to infuse my year with liturgy, ritual, and the observance of holy days.
It hasn’t been going so well.
The trouble is that it’s very hard to practice liturgy all by yourself.
One of the root words in liturgy is “public.” My dictionary defines liturgy as “a rite or body of rites prescribed for public worship.” It’s something that’s meant to be performed as a communal body.
But no one else I know practices liturgy or observes Holy Days (aside from Christmas and Easter, which have been thoroughly secularized and commercialized). My husband feels like I’m speaking foreign language when I try to talk to him about Advent or liturgical prayer. My mom-in-law will invite us over for pepperoni pizza on a Friday during Lent. On Palm Sunday, my church started its series on marriage. The only thing my friends know about Ash Wednesday is that they stop selling Poonchkies at the local bakery.
I’ve been working through Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, but it’s hard because so much of the language is communal (as it’s meant to be). I find myself skipping over all the passages that begin with “We,” and jumping right over invocations to “confess to one another.” They don’t apply to me. I’m all by myself.
I feel like the prayers would work better if I said them out loud, but I can’t find a good time or place to do that. I end up sitting in bed in my pajamas, reading everything silently in my head to keep from waking the baby. And also, let’s face it, because it’s awkward to read out loud with my husband right there next to me.
I wish I had someone else to do this with. I’m discovering how important it is to have a community in which to celebrate, confess, and pray.
In short, I’m discovering how much I need the Church.
Note that I didn’t say I’m discovering how much I need Sunday morning services, where we meet in a big church building for 30 minutes of singing and 30 minutes of sermon. I’m not sure about that yet.
But I need to be embedded within a body of like-minded folks who want to follow Jesus together. I need to meet regularly with fellow believers and share our fears and burdens, celebrate feasts, and share the sacraments.
We need to remind each other of all that is Holy, that we belong to a backwards Kingdom, where foolishness is wisdom and the normal things are sacred.
I do some of these things already, of course. I meet with a group of friends bi-weekly to discuss books written by Christian authors, and to talk about ways we can live out the ideas we read about. I occasionally go to Sunday morning services to sing worship songs and listen to sermons.
I’ve also found so much strength and encouragement from a community of like-minded bloggers.
And, like I said, I belong to a group of friends that continues to practice chastity and other virtues.
But I really wanted to go deeper this year. I wanted holiness to pervade my daily, weekly, and yearly rhythms. I find myself yearning for the Church, where fasts and feasts and spiritual disciplines are normal and expected — just like chastity was normal and expected amongst my peers in my young adulthood.
So while I work through infusing my daily life with holiness, I also want to focus my energies on figuring out how to be and do church.
I’m just not sure where to start.
Have you been there too? Care to share some of your story?
Photo courtesy of habeebee.