The sisters chanted the Magnificat from the other side of the grille.
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord”.
Yes, my spirit was rejoicing in God my Savior as I glanced down for the hundredth time at the delicate diamond and saphire ring glittering on my finger.
He had drawn out a little white box halfway through the third psalm, opened it, and whispered his proposal. When he continued to hold the box in the same manner after I had already whispered “yes”, I touched it and mumbled something about it being adequately pretty. Still no movement. After another whole second, I outright asked if I could put it on. He gave me the box and I put on the ring. Prayers continued as we smiled brightly under our masks.
The ring was indeed very pretty, matched very well to my tastes. I had been asked for and furnished a few selection tips after he had discovered how vast is the world of engagement ring possibilities a month or two before he planned to propose. He researched and found a ring that met my every stated preference. I was shocked how big the little diamond was, the largest that can be called “small”. I had been quite explicit on this point as both my inner raccoon, drawn irresistibly to shiny things, and my inner St Francis, madly courting Lady Poverty, both preferred a small diamond, although not for the same reason.
The ring was too pretty. I really did not know how to process it. I am sure he spent more than I could even fathom being allowable, although many would probably call it quite reasonable - he did - just as they would not hesitate to call my gigantic diamond small. Since the day that he had brought up engagement rings, okay maybe a little before that day, I had been actively wrestling with a million cultural expectations I had gathered like flowers from my girlhood and a conflicting desire to live monastically with simplicity and without luxury. Could I really wear a real diamond ring? And wear it everyday, not just special occasions, even while attending to messy menial tasks at home and at work?
I was so perplexed I shared my concerns with a dear friend who was well acquainted with the enduring influence of years of mendicant religious life. Her comforting reply (which I am presuming her permission to quote here anonymously):
“God made the world good. Creation is good! You can celebrate it BIG in your newfound love”
At this same time, I began to prayerfully reflect on why the ring troubled me and what it represented. Until the day of my engagement, I wore a ring that my mom bought for me when I was 12 years old to promise chastity. After over 20 years it was formed to my finger, comfortable and easy. But how many times had I nearly lost that ring! I broke it once. How often was the cute teddy bear design clogged with grime from this or that dirty task. How imperfectly had I sometimes practiced that too little understood promise of chastity. It was not until religious life, which required me to take the cherished ring off and each day anew tuck it securely in a pocket, that I truly learned to value it and, even more so, the lovely virtue it represented.
In those first days of engagement, blissful as I felt, I missed that easy ring when the new one, slightly loose, and much taller irritated my finger and weighed on my mind as I went about my tasks. Then, in the chapel at work one morning, it occurred to me: yes, the ring is valuable. The ring does require mindfulness. So also does the relationship it represents.
Not only does my engagement ring signal to others that my heart is given to another, but also the carefulness it requires, the beautiful glittering in the light that still makes me beam as I look into the stone for the hundred thousandth time and the awareness that it was dearly purchased all remind me never to take the happy reality of my future husband for granted.
Could the money have been better spent? Given to the poor? Sure, it could have. But asking that reminds me that in the Gospel it was the betrayer, and thief, who posed such a question when Jesus was given a lavish and impractical gift of love. Furthermore, there is no lack of Scriptural evidence to illustrate that marriage is a noble reality prompting wonders of God's lavish generosity: Six large jugs of water miraculously turned to wine after a lot of wine had already been consumed and run out! The Song of Songs. The wedding feast of the Lamb. The creation of man and woman in God’s image and likeness. The fidelity of the Lord despite Israel’s repeated infidelity. The crucifixion.
I hope my friend will indulge me, as I let her write the conclusion by copying and pasting once more from her email:
"Marriage and family relationships are a sure road to sanctity in His grace…Let's allow the Lord to walk with us and transform us day by day, especially through the difficulties. Whether in a cloister or in marriage (or any state--just belonging to God), we are signing up for a lifetime of self-denial, love of God and love of neighbor…. I am so happy you have embraced the gift of matrimony!"
I am so very happy too and grateful to get to wear the pretty (now properly sized) ring from my future husband that symbolizes such a wonderful gift from God, every day until death do us part.