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 couple met.
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 wedding guests.
[This column appeared before same-sex marriage was legal.]
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.
717. 08052814 THE STAR’S PRINT HEADLINE:
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 responds.
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 changing wind.
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.
140. 970430 THE STAR’S PRINT
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.
42. 950614 THE STAR’S PRINT
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.”
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.
649. 070214 THE STAR’S PRINT
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 persecute you.”
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 order.
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.
215. 981007 THE STAR’S PRINT
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 faith labels.
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 faiths.
139. 970423 THE STAR’S PRINT
Interfaith unions can be problematic for parents
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 faiths.
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, or none.
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.
37. 950510 THE STAR’S PRINT
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 initiation.
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.