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Weddings celebrate love
I like weddings. Presiding over my first one forty
years ago, I was probably as nervous as the bride and groom, but I’ve long
since come to relax and savor the proceedings.
After all these years, I sometimes
find myself performing the weddings of the offspring of those I had married
years ago, a thrill I could not have imagined when I was a young minister.
But the fun still starts when I meet
with a couple to plan their ceremony. It’s interesting to hear how the
What I most like to ask is, “Would
you name one or two things that you really like about your future spouse?
Speak your answer directly to your beloved.” You can imagine what hilarious
as well as tender things I have heard.
I recently met a young man and woman
who had thought, after their failed first marriages, that they would never
find someone who would fit both them and their children. I was glad they
brought the young ones along to the planning session because the good time
the kids were having with each other reinforced what a superb match the
parents are for each other, and I said so.
A couple I married last month wanted
humor within a reverent ceremony. They decided their wide circle of friends
should be acknowledged with my opening the wedding ceremony by explicitly
welcoming those “from KState — and KU — also honoring Mizzou.”
Both bride and groom played a lot
of sports and were particularly known for soccer, so the wedding rings
were presented to them on a soccer ball, a touch that rang true with the
Whether the wedding is traditional
or unusual, simple or elaborate, whether there are two witnesses or hundreds,
whether it is a religious ceremony blessing a same-sex couple or
also a legal contract between a man and a woman, whether the couple is
young or old, whatever the complications of their or their families’ spiritual
allegiances or none, whatever the social standing, my job is to keep the
focus on the love being celebrated.
That’s one reason that I like meeting
the families and friends as they tell their stories and share their hopes
for the couple.
For a wedding is never just between
two people, even if some of the relationships are strained. Weddings and
holy unions, like other forms of commitment, are strong fibers from which
society is woven.
At receptions, I especially like the
exuberant three- and six- and ten-year-olds dancing with their grandparents.
I see generations created and supported as love is transmitted with a joy
I call holy. With all the bad news, it makes me believe there is a future.
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Happy couples can start new traditions
Weddings belong to the happy couple and their guests,
not to me, the officiant. I yield to their considered wishes, but I offer
my professional advice as we plan the ceremony.
* For example, it does not make sense
for a couple who have been living together for some time to appear at the
ceremony from separate entrances, at separate times, with separate escorts.
Still, even older couples sometimes
want the bride to be escorted down the aisle by her father, and it is important
to honor that expectation.
A wonderful variation, especially
for a young couple, is for both of them to be escorted by their parents.
* “Giving the bride away” treats her like
property. I prefer to ask, “Who presents this woman to be married to this
man and blesses their love?” to which her family responds, “We do.”
Then I ask, “Who presents this man to be
married to this woman and blesses their love?” to which the groom’s family
This avoids the sexism of archaic
language and is easy to adapt for same-sex couples.
* The exchanging of vows is the pivot of
the ceremony. The couple can speak their vows directly to one another,
without the “repeat after me” interference from the minister. I suggest
they compose their vows from various examples and from what is in their
hearts, write them on parchment paper and read them in front of their guests.
This gives the guests something to see as well as hear and it dramatizes
the commitment. Some couples like to frame their vows for their home or
include them in their book of wedding memories.
* A few couples still insist on my
saying, “You may kiss the bride.” The state has given me the right to solemnize
marriages, but I am uncomfortable giving one partner permission to kiss
the other. I’ll tell the couple an embrace is expected after
I pronounce them hitched, and they’ll probably feel like kissing then.
But they don’t need me verbalizing permission.
* Sometimes couples want to acknowledge
someone who cannot be present — an ailing aunt or a deceased grandfather.
This can be done with a note in a printed program, if any, or by the officiant
saying something like, “This day we remember . . . .”
* In a planning session recently a couple
told me that while their wedding day would be so very happy for them, they
wanted their ceremony to recognize that not everyone is happy, that there
is much sorrow and suffering across the planet.
This couple’s marriage, I am sure, will
better the world.
306. 000712 THE STAR’S PRINT
Life meanders by design, and so we meet
DES MOINES—The chairs have been set up, it seems,
for a lecture, but that’s not the occasion. If I were showing overheads
or using a flipchart, the arrangement might make sense, but I’m about to
preside at a wedding, here under the dome at the Botanical Center.
Except for the positioning of the
chairs, I don’t see any straight lines. Everything is organic. The Japanese
koi do not swim directly. The finches do not rise and swoop according to
compass alignment. The orchids and spider lilies are shaped by inner design,
not forced rectilinear pattern. The fig tree and the coconut palm have
bumps and bends, suggesting not so much a ruler as the moving sun and the
So I quickly put the chairs in meander
mode. It seems so natural that no one notices as guests take their seats.
The people now are participants in this lush environment, not intruders
from a land of rigid pews.
The groom and bride did not find each
other by orthogonals or lime lines. Life is often haphazard and unexpected,
beauty growing out of chance circumstance more than blueprint. The love
we celebrate spills over boundaries, uniting two families as well as two
persons, an enriched ecology, not a new wing to a building.
It is an unexpected splendor. Who
could have predicted it? The spirit, Jesus said, is like the wind: you
don’t know whence it comes and goes.
Yes, we need straight lines, rules
and plans, in their place; but on this occasion, in this space, to celebrate
the spirit and ways of love, subverting the rows and files of chairs seems
a better way to match this garden glory.
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Multifaith weddings shouldn’t offend
If the one you are planning to marry has a religious
background different from yours, how can you best design your wedding?
One way to is to include only themes
and practices common to both faiths. Offending no one is the goal.
A second approach instead assumes
that different faiths are enriching. The goal becomes embracing the two
traditions as living spiritual inheritances, not as dead weights.
How can you create such a marriage
or holy union ceremony?
1. Rather than downplaying religious
differences, joyfully recognize them with clergy or representatives of
both traditions, or with a single officiant familiar with both faiths.
2. Respectfully incorporate
language, liturgy and music from both traditions.
For examples, wine is used in both
Jewish and Christian practices, and a creative ritual reformulation can
powerfully express reverence for both faiths. Or light, a Christian symbol
of the Spirit, can be evoked in the Hindu ceremony’s use of fire. An American
Indian chant sung in the native tongue and an English hymn can engender
a warm sense of heritages joined.
3. Choose the locations for
ceremony and reception with sensitivity.
4. Rethink routines to make
the ceremony fresh. Replace the patriarchal “giving the bride away” with
a time for both families to present blessings to both partners. In return,
the couples may wish to honor their families with flowers or by lighting
a “unity candle” from candles lit earlier by each of the families.
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Love and marriage and weddings
How many weddings will you attend or hear about
Each ceremony is an opportunity for
us to place into a larger, spiritual context the love and commitment of
two people finding each other.
In some Christian weddings the happy couple’s bond
signifies “the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church.”
The erotic poetry of the Song of Solomon
becomes an allegory pairing God and his people. Every marriage is a new
fulfillment of the model of Adam and Eve.
Plato gives an ancient Greek version
of the idea of “soul-mates.” His “Symposium” specifies that originally
all humans had two heads, four arms, and so forth, until the gods split
them, some into two men, some into two women, some into one man and one
woman. Ever since humans have searched for their other halves. Finding
one’s other self gives the sense of being compete lovers often enjoy.
Sufi theologians have often understood
God as a lover and our task to see God’s love everywhere. The mystical
jihad, holy struggle, is to find divine beauty in everyone, in every place,
and to disregard lesser thoughts about others, in order to love as God
loves. Connie Rahima Sweeney, a Kansas City Sufi leader, says the lover
imitates “Ya Ghaffar,” God’s forgiving nature, and “Ya Ghaffur,” which
does not even notice the faults of the other.
Linda Prugh of the Vedanta Society
of Kansas City cites Swami Vivekananda’s advice that if you can’t see God
in everyone, start with your spouse: “As long as you can both see the ideal
in one another, your worship and happiness will grow.”
081119 THE STAR’S PRINT HEADLINE:
The History of Marriage
Last Saturday several hundred people gathered
near the Plaza to protest the vote in California against gay marriage.
Sometimes people say that marriage
has always been between one man and one woman who love each other.
But there are many contrary
examples. Consider Solomon with his 700 wives and 300 concubines. Are we
talking political alliances, procreation, property rights, honored servants,
companionship, sexual opportunities — or love?
Producing offspring was very
important to early societies. In the Bible, Onan’s father forced him to
have sex with his dead brother’s wife to perpetuate the family line. This
custom, the “levirate” marriage, continued into Jesus’ time.
Love is fickle, and what society
needed was stability. Marriage did not originate in love between partners
but as a compact between families or groups.
This is why in the Bible, most
marriages were arranged by the parents, sometimes when the children were
infants, though Isaac was 40 years old when Rebecca was selected for him.
Women were like property. But
David did not buy King Saul’s daughter; instead he proved his worthiness
by presenting Saul with the foreskins of 200 Philistines.
In the Christian era, Paul prohibited
bishops from having more than one wife (1 Tim. 3:2), but Christians experimented
with marriage in many forms.
Marriage was not declared a
sacrament within the Roman Catholic Church until 1215. Before then, weddings
were often held outside the church because they were less about love than
about social stability.
The late Yale historian John
Boswell documented Christian practices through the 18th Century of church
unions of men in love. Male couples pledged fidelity for life, joined right
hands before the altar, shared a cup of wine, heard biblical passages (such
as Psalm 133), and received the priest’s blessing.
In America, the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) of Utah practiced polygamy until
it was outlawed, and some break-away groups still favor it in practice.
The 19th Century experiment
in Oneida, N.Y., led by John Humphrey Noyes, prohibited monogamy. The community
practiced complex marriage: every man was the husband of every woman, and
every woman was the wife of every man. Exclusive relationships were forbidden
because members of the “body of Christ” should love each and all.
Laws against blacks and whites
marrying continued in the US until 1967.
Increasing numbers of clergy
in the US and in Kansas City now perform same-sex ceremonies, and
same-sex couples are asking for legal, as well as religious, recognition
of their love and commitment.
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Love and be known
In his book, Myths to Live By, Joseph Campbell discusses
three kinds of love, eros, agape and amor.
Elsewhere he describes eros as “the zeal of the
organs for each other,” the biological urge for physical intimacy. In India,
the god Kama, like Cupid in the West, is armed with arrows to afflict one
with yearning for satisfaction of such attraction.
Agape is not merely love for one’s
friends and one’s neighbor as oneself, but a kind of affection which overcomes
ordinary human divisions such as by nation, race and religion to embrace
not only humanity at large but also one’s fiercest enemies. Here he cites
Jesus who said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good
to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and
These first two types of love are
impersonal, but amor discriminates. Of the three, amor is perhaps closest
to the love we associate with Valentine’s Day because it grows out of an
intensely personal and unique relationship. It is love not just for any
person but for a particular person, a “significant other.”
Campbell notes that amor is Roma spelled
backwards in order to contrast the earlier church-sanctioned marriages
of the Middle Ages, impersonal unions arranged for political, property
or family reasons, with the later ideal from Islam introduced by the troubadours,
that love is a divine passion between two people who, smitten with an attraction
between their souls, deliberately choose each other.
Because such love reverses, violates,
the social order, Campbell characterizes it as the triumph of libido over
credo, the “impulse to life” over the beliefs which supported the social
While Campbell’s historical characterizations
may be offensive, many scholars agree that the introduction of romantic
love was a turning point in Western civilization.
One could even argue that the emphasis
on personal relationship ultimately led to the Protestant Reformation with
its teaching of the “priesthood of all believers.”
And in fact, the Puritans came to
call marriage “the little church within the Church.”
Thus amor is just as spiritual as agape.
And others have taught that eros is also inherently a spiritual energy.
Whatever species of love may be named,
it offers the opportunity to know and be known, from the kind of knowledge
Adam had with Eve which enabled her to conceive, to the ineffable knowledge
given to the mystics in their ecstasies with God, to the “knitting” of
David and Jonathan’s souls, to the enduring companionship of wedded love.
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Multifaith marriages walk in agreement
MINNEAPOLIS—The last time I wrote about interfaith
weddings, several colleagues in the ministry called. While some thanked
me for supporting their practice of uniting couples of different faiths,
One called my approach “eclectic tripe.”
I am remembering this because I have
just conducted another interfaith wedding, and the guests—from Muslim,
Jewish and Christian backgrounds—expressed deep appreciation for the ways
in which their faiths were acknowledged in the ceremony.
In the months we worked together in
designing the rite, the bride and groom were extraordinarily thoughtful
in planning every word and gesture.
Although their religious backgrounds
are different, the respect they gave each other and their families is,
to me, a powerful answer to the colleague who asked, “How can two walk
together except they be agreed?”
Last summer another couple used Christian,
Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan and American Indian sources for their ceremony.
With guests from around the world, they wanted to express reverence for
many ways the sacred is manifested.
In my experience, two can walk together
with mutual respect and shared values. They do not need to agree on identical
The wedding here was a holy moment,
enriched by several traditions and larger than any label.
While I respect my colleagues who
decline to perform interfaith marriages, I hope they will also respect
those of us who honor couples whose love and commitment embraces different
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Interfaith unions can be problematic for
Nowadays it is common for couples celebrating their
love in a wedding or holy union commitment to come from different religious
Some traditions discourage mixed marriages
because such unions are not likely to produce children to perpetuate their
They also question whether two people
of different backgrounds share enough values to live together successfully.
Others say that religious labels are
not as important as they used to be.
Religion is more a discovery of what
is meaningful in life, and two people who love each other can have a deeply
shared spiritual orientation, regardless of different institutional affiliations,
Most families want to share the couple’s
joy in the ceremony. But not all.
Parents who refuse to attend an interfaith
wedding will almost certainly drive their children away from their faith,
rather than cause them to return to it. Parents risk a bitterness that
can harden into permanent damage to family relationships.
A similar risk arises for family members
who will not attend ceremonies for racially mixed or same-sex couples because
they feel doing so would compromise their principles.
Parents need to consider whether loving
their children unconditionally is a better expression of their family values,
or if taking a stand against their children’s choices is a better witness
to their faith.
If the couple does come from different
faiths, how can they plan their ceremony.
Next week I’ll offer some suggestions.
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HEADLINE: Weddings signify a spiritual union
For most of us today, a wedding celebrates the love
between two people. But love has not always been the main object of the
ceremony. In the past, weddings have been used to arrange political alliances,
settle property rights, or sanction sexual relationships.
In most traditions now, the wedding is a spiritual
SUFI. Allaudin Ottinger, a Kansas
City Sufi leader, performs ceremonies using vows from Pir Inayat Khan,
including the question, “Will you consider this woman (man) to be your
husband (wife) the most sacred trust given to you by God?”
Ottinger says that a wedding celebrates
the partners’ recognition of the divine in each other. Marriage, which
is “a union greater than the sum of its parts,” includes “daily tests”
through which the spouses polish each other, like gems.
CHRISTIAN. The Rev. Celena Duncan,
pastor the Metropolitan Community Church of Johnson County, says that a
holy union ceremony for those of the same gender is spiritually no different
than a Christian heterosexual wedding. In both cases, a couple comes before
God to ask a blessing on their relationship. Both are serious commitments,
“with deep meaning and dignity.”
The ceremony reminds the couple to put God at the
center of their partnership and as they interact with others in all activities.
JEWISH. Rabbi Mark Levin of Congregation
Beth Torah says that the Jewish wedding ceremony is called Kiddushin, Hebrew
meaning “to make holy.” The consecrated partners become separate from others
and are special to each other. When the ceremony is completed, the couple
spends a short time by themselves before joining the guests at the reception.