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Dearly Beloved

Years and years ago a friend asked if I could do their wedding ceremony. I was flattered and said I’d look into it. I got ordained by the Universal Life Church, a very user friendly clergy making enterprise whose only doctrine is that the word of god should be preached however you see it. Then I filled out a short application and sent the state of Ohio $10 and married my friends. It went nice which led to some others. Last weekend I did my ninth one and all in all it went very well. I made a couple of stumbles including leading the groom in his vows having him promise to never honor his wife, people got a chuckle out of that. But mostly folks liked it. One of the things I’ve done is try to customize the ceremony for each couple honoring my own view of the truth but framing things in the way they believe without upsetting the grandparents. For this one they wanted it secular and the theme they wanted to explore was that of community. I took it as an opportunity to try to explore some issues and really write a secular sermon. Here are some excerpts that may be of general interest. Many thanks to the bride and groom for being able to share this and for being so gracious.

When I say that marriage is sacred I am not just referring to this ceremony; the act of being married, but also to all of the simple day-to-day activities that mean so much more than mere words in a ceremony. Like listening to each other, yes, listening is sacred; when we do it with our hearts and our minds and not just our ears; as an act of love, listening is sacred. And yes speech is sacred. The idea brought forth; the unity of communication. Taking the time to place energy into clearly identifying what is going on and working out how we feel and how we can all get our needs met; yes communication is sacred. Being willing to put aside hard feelings and forgive each other is sacred; as is learning from the times when we fall short, so our hurtful mistakes are not endlessly repeated; yes, change and growth are sacred. Every act of kindness, compassion, compromise and reconciliation is sacred and reaches to the core of the sanctity of true marriage.

I know both Amy and Michael because we live together in a community. Years before they found each other, I knew them both, because we share a network of friends and acquaintances; tied together by mutual association, a cultural affinity, and shared values. Human beings have organized themselves into communities that are surprisingly similar across time and across culture, because they meet the same needs and facilitate the same processes. Processes necessary for social reproduction like marriage. But the very idea of community has come under assault by the forces of modernity. Community used to be localized to a small place where few traveled. Largely, everyone knew everyone else and ties were based upon personal relationships. Problems were solved, mutual aid was rendered, and cohesion was maintained all based upon personal affinity and connection. With the advent of industrialization, urbanization, and geographic mobility came a reorganization of our means of social reproduction. No longer would our needs be met from individuals we knew and who knew us, but interactions became utilitarian exchanges with strangers, devoid of deeper meaning or personal context. An estrangement crept into modernity, as old ties were broken, but the same human needs for belonging and a shared context remained. But like a swing of the pendulum we have begun to move back to placing community at the forefront of our shared values once again. Much that was old is new again. From the farmers market, to knitting circles, to cross-generational housing, we are beginning to rediscover the value of community. The move to buy local, to develop our own regional sense of culture and taste, and not just be a cog in the corporate machine of generic- America.

Edgy stuff right? Had to throw a bone to the anarchists in the crowd. The reading was from Gibran’s The Prophet, one of my favs and we used the chapter on marriage which  I will include below, followed by my thoughts on the reading:

Then Almitra spoke again and said, “And what of Marriage, master?”

And he answered saying:

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.

You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days.

Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.

But let there be spaces in your togetherness,

And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another but make not a bond of love:

Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.

Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.

Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.

Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,

Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.

For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.

And stand together, yet not too near together:

For the pillars of the temple stand apart,

And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

Gibran raises some great points to think about when we look at the subject of marriage. “Love one another but make not a bond of love”. Bond here is not our common use as a connection but he is referring to bonds like chains, an entrapment, marriage as a cage. This all too common take on marriage, “the old ball & chain” Gibran correctly rejects. True Marriage is not an act of mutual codependence; two half people coming together to make a whole. Marriage should be a meeting ground for equals. Two whole people who come together not out of need but a simple desire to share a life together. When we look for our completion in another we place how we feel about ourselves in another’s hands. This turning over your life to the care of another person is both dangerous and places tremendous pressure on the person who is given the responsibility for your happiness without the means to make it so. But as Gibran states supporting pillars stand apart. Each has its own strength and no pillar can support an edifice if it must hold up the other pillar as well. We know marriage is associated with happiness. The simple fact is that married people are happier than single people. But does marriage make people happy? I don’t believe so. I believe happy people get married. After exhaustive examination we know definitively two things that do make people happy; being in love and having meaningful work. So make the steps that will keep your love alive including the space needed for that love to grow. Take steps to ensure your marriage is meaningful. The great promise of happiness rooted in love and meaning is that both are free, limitless, and open to all. I have found things to be as meaningful or as meaningless as I allow them to be. Meaning is not intrinsic in things but we bring meaning to the table. We decide what has meaning and what that meaning is. Just as we decide who we love, how we love, and what that love means.

Categories: religeon, writing
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