“One must learn to love, and go through a good deal of suffering to get to it, and the journey is always towards the other soul.” -D.H. Lawrence
I’ve been preparing for a strange task lately: I’m collecting material to officiate a wedding. The happy couple is friends I’ve known for a few years. When they became engaged, the bride-to-be took me to lunch, fed me something with tequila in it, and told me she and her betrothed wanted me to marry them. Though stunned, I accepted the request immediately. Before my brain could wrap itself around this, I had said yes.
Signing up with the Universal Life Church online to be a minister was easy. Click, click, click; I was ordained. In my defense, I don’t take anything spiritual lightly; and I’ve had a daily soulful practice since I was a child. However, my New Age bent is not why they asked me: the bride-to-be said I was good in front of a crowd. I suppose I can be commanding.
This task feels strange in one way because I was recently divorced. If there were a pin-up girl for a successful wife, she wouldn’t be me. Perhaps my failure is a doorway to deeper wisdom on the subject, though, and I’ve spent much time over the last few months thinking about romantic love, and it’s consummation in wedding vows.
Plucking ceremonial rights from different online resources, I’ve meditated on the meaning of the steps. The marriage I’ll be officiating is one for love, pure and simple, and so each movement in the ceremony could be imbued with purpose. I’ll see how it shakes out with the couple, since it’s their vision that matters. But this is what I’ve taken from the preparations:
Procession: this is the bit when the bride and groom find each other at the front of the altar. Historically, the groom came in from the side and waited for the father of the bride to hand her off to him. In my own wedding, my uncle did the honor, and it was incredibly comforting to have him by my side. Now though, couples walk in together quite often. Modern marriage is usually about two adults stepping up to each other, as equals.
Opening: This is the bit when the officiator sets the tone of the ceremony. In romantic relationships, the beginning is important, and can set patterns for the entire time the couple is together.
Reading: As Dumbledore stated in the last Harry Potter movie, “Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic.” I’ll be interest to see what the happy couple selects for this step. The words they agree on will inform the guests why they’re standing there. It’s important to know.
Vows: This is simple, short and sweet; yet without this handful of words, the ceremony isn’t binding. Remember the line about words being magic…
Exchange of rings: Rings are deeply symbolic and socially important. Someone wearing a wedding ring should communicate to a potential suitor to back off…this one is taken. Also, it’s a source of pride for many women, who love jewelry. Tossing my wedding ring into a quickly moving stream was the ceremony I performed to end my marriage. In that moment, I was released; many months before it was made official by the courts. To take on a new ring is to be bound to another: so you’d better like the person!
Unity traditions: I’m seeing this done more often at weddings. Doing a little ritual, like pouring wine into one cup, or circling the altar three times, is a small action performed by the couple to show the journey has begun. This is sort of like conception.
Closing: a brief statement to the now-bored audience we’re almost done.
Declaration of Marriage: “By the power vested in me…I now pronounce you husband and wife…” You know that part, but it’s also legally binding, and so important to do.
Introduction of the Newlyweds: I’ve always liked this part of the ceremony best. When the whole ordeal is over, and the spiritual transfiguration is complete, the minister introduces the two people made new, and different, by the ceremony. This is powerful magic.
Circling through these thoughts of marriage, I’ve developed a deeper appreciation for why it continues to be an important social, personal, and spiritual contract. Also, I more thoroughly understand why the right of gay couples to marry is fundamental, and indisputable by any rational person. All people deserve the right to marry. Period.
Personalizing this experience, I’ve wondered if I’ll ever remarry. Actually, I am probably less likely to do it now that I’ve spent time contemplating it. It’s a serious and somber thing, marriage, and if I’d ever do it again, I would have to be post-rational about my feelings for some chap.
Kudos to all of you successfully married people; the work you do to maintain your relationship is admirable, and so often undervalued. Marriage is precious and worthwhile for those who understand the magic of it… and the ceremony.