Marriage

June 30th, 2013

Psalms 91:11 – For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.

Notes from a Pastor: I attended a wedding this afternoon, gathered under bright golden sunshine on summer’s still shiny green grass. It was outdoors on the headlands, the blue waves crashing softly on the jagged rocks below, sending fountains of foamy white spray into the soft warm-cool summer air of the Northern California coast. The violinist and flautist were trying to both look dignified and also grab their music as the breeze tried to snatch it off their music stands and dance it over the cliff into the sea. It had an angel theme because the bride’s name was Angel. The colorful dresses and stiffly handsome tuxedos of the groomsmen dotted the grass with bright cheerful rainbows of color as they escorted people to their white wooden folding chairs in a half circle around the bridal arch, careful to keep the aisle wide enough for the full skirts of the bride and the eager spontaneous twirls of the flower girls, who were especially fluffy as they not only had full sparkling white dresses but golden halos and glittering angel wings. They accidently knocked over the four year old ring bearer in their enthusiasm, and his halo and his glasses fell off and his angel wings twisted into an impossible tangle. The laughter of the gathering people was sweet. There is something so joyful and optimistic about a wedding….

I—and very many other people in this country—have been thinking about weddings this week, as the Supreme Court decision has allowed Californians to resume same-sex marriages and has changed the rules for couples across the federal system. We argue and pray and fuss and snarl and hope and beg God to save us from the horrors of wrong deciders—just as we have about all big social changes, like integrating schools and giving blacks—and even women!—the vote and whether we should provide health care or allow a more humane policy toward illegal immigrants whose families have been here for a very long time. Social change is painful and the rules of polite and respectful social discourse seem to have fallen into disrepair and misuse and so we suffer through the inevitable processes of social change in a shrinking and increasingly interdependent global society where our diversity slams us up against others in ways we just can’t ignore. Meanwhile, today I went to a wedding and so I am pondering marriage.

I was taught a song in Sunday school as a toddler—many people probably know it—that goes “Praise him praise him all ye little children: God is Love, God is Love.” It has lots of verses with that same theme. Jesus also told us that. He said all the ten commandments could be summed up in one: “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you!” And, believing he meant that, I have plaques and posters all over my house and churches that say, “Love is a verb”, believing with all my heart, mind, soul and strength that what Jesus meant by that is that love is not necessarily a warm fuzzy feeling but is necessarily a choice of behavior. Love requires of us lovingkindness, compassion and non-judgmental inclusion of others.

What does that have to do with marriage and whether it is only for a man and a woman or is for any couple who commits to those hard promises, legal and spiritual. I think about the things I say to couples during a wedding that I am presiding over. Many of the words are ancient but some of what I say is personal, a minister grabbing a teachable moment among the marrying couple, friends and family that may provide some help and guidance along the way. No two weddings are the same, but I would offer the same kinds of words to any couple ready to make such life-long commitment: a journey to learn—sometimes easily and sometimes with great effort–to cross that bridge between two separate ways of being, alone and together, that is both the greatest and most sacred joy of marriage and also its biggest challenge.

Life’s adventures are meant to be shared. Life’s path is perilous and we each need to reach for an outstretched hand to help us over the rocky places, and outstretched arms to walk into for the comfort and the safe place that we find only there, within the arms and heart of our beloved.

Blessed are those who have found in each other’s hearts and in each other’s arms their own safe place. Today we celebrate your marriage, the place where the seeds of dreams long ago planted and rooted in the patterns of your lives put on the wings of the morning and the promise of eternity. Today is your wedding day!

You come to this celebration, as all people must, from past places often far apart, to join hands and hearts as you face the unknown region of the future as best friends and partners, lovers and family, in all that may come. We gather close around you, two people deeply cared for by family and friends, to support the promises you make to each other, and with our love and our help and our friendship, we are here to witness your sacred covenant and to bless you both as your life continues to take you in ever deepening circles to the heart of love as husband and wife.

It is one of God’s best gifts that we were created to walk through the perils and pleasures of Life’s journey together. May you both find true comfort, safety and peace of mind in one another’s arms. May you grow in compassion and wisdom, laughter and love as you face life together. May your families and friends enrich your lives and help you through the rough places–and, of course, there are always rough places! And may you be truly happy in each other’s company, most of the time!

I always ask people to pray with me. After all, we have lots to pray for at a wedding: Love that makes all things beautiful, we thank you for the beauty of this day and the special gifts of this place, the feel of the air and the sun, the sparkle and shine of light, and the presence of birds and bugs and all the busy creatures, large and small, love this place. God who has made us intelligent, we thank you for gifts of harmony and nature, for thought and art, for music and language; and for the mystery which brings moral consciousness to character, laughter and play to companionship and the marvelous design that unites us as families. We ask you to teach us to live cherishing each day, noticing the beauty that surrounds us in nature and the joy of creative work, rejoicing in family and friendship and in a life lived for Love’s sake. It is but a brief moment that we have these things. Help us not to waste any of these gifts life brings us. Amen.

We all want to fall in love with someone who can be trusted completely, who will love us exactly as we are and who believes in all we can become. It takes courage to promise each other, “You are my only and forever lover, my best friend, the person I choose to be with for the rest of my life.” You already know many of the gifts each of you brings to the other’s life. The best gifts you can offer each other are heart gifts. You can strengthen each other and your marriage with laughter and kindness. You can be patient and gentle with each other and with yourselves. Marriage is a work in progress and it takes a lifetime of practice to get it just right! Be willing to make mistakes and to learn from them, to forgive yourselves and one another and then move on. Remember to ask for help when you get stuck–and that things always look better in the morning, no matter how dark seems the night.

Love is a gift, a magnificent mystery. But it is a mystery that requires your consent and lifelong commitment. Your relationship is a work in progress, a complementary partnership, long sought after by both of you, which is already much more complete and powerful in union than when you are separated.

As you promise to share in one another’s lives as a married couple, it is also important to never forget you will always remain two separate people. Continue to be proud of your differences and make space in your togetherness to value the ways you are different. Marriage is a promise to love each other as the primary and most sacred center of your life, to share and grow and become something new. Marriage will help you become more than either of you were apart and yet can help you become more wholly yourselves than you could become before you were together. Together you will share all that is to come, give and receive according to each other’s needs at each new stage of life, speak and listen, inspire and respond, and be loyal to each other when it is easy and natural and also when it is difficult and strained. Together you will laugh and cry, be sick and well, be happy and angry, be frightened and find courage, be sad and find comfort, be disappointed and find strength, be surprised by life, find adventure, and know joy.

And then there are the ancient words, hundreds, maybe thousands of years old in their evolving forms, declaring their lifelong intention out loud in front of everyone:

A, will you have B to be your wife [spouse],
to live together in holy marriage?
Will you love her, comfort her,
honor and keep her,
in sickness and in health,
and forsaking all others, be faithful to her
as long as you both shall live?
[I will.]

B, will you have A
to be your husband [spouse]?
to live together in holy marriage?
Will you love him, comfort him,
honor and keep him,
and forsaking all others, be faithful to him,
as long as you both shall live?
[I will.]

The marriage of A and B unites their families and creates a new one. They cannot make their marriage work without help. Those who know them, who love them, who respect the commitment to one another they are making today, must also help them. They will not always know what to do as life unfolds before them. None of us always knows what to do. They need trustworthy friends and relatives who will help them survive, grow and develop as a couple and as a family. Will all of you here promise your care and support to them, today and in all the unseen challenges they will face together in the future? [We will.]

You two have already shown yourselves to be very resourceful in working things out between you. Still, every one needs outside help sometimes, someone to talk things over with, someone to help you know what to do. How will you know when you need help? When you are both trying as hard as you can to work out a problem and you stay stuck, ask for help. When either one of you feels afraid for or about the other one, for any reason, ask for help. Fear is a signal that you need outside help. So is anger that isn’t gone by the end of the day. We are all born needing friends and family, needing to be part of a community. We are all part of God’s family and God expects us to take care of each other. Will you promise to ask for help when you don’t know what to do? [We will.]

Please pray with me: God who creates us all, you made us to love one another. You who are Love gave us loving relationships as the only strong answer to our individual fragility and vulnerability. Be with Daniel and Jacqueline and bless them as they reach out with their hearts in commitment to the relationship they have created between them. Bless them as they walk each new path together, that all they have been and all they may become may be strength for their journey together as husband and wife. May this day be wrapped in beauty. May their hearts be still and sure. May they walk together in confidence all their days, secure in your promise to walk with them, wherever they go, and live happily ever after. Amen.

I, A, take you, B, to be my wife [spouse];
to have and to hold
from this day forward,
for better, for worse,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish,
as long as we both shall live.
This is my solemn vow.

I, B, take you, B, to be my husband, [spouse]
to have and to hold
from this day forward,
for better, for worse,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish,
as long as we both shall live.
This is my solemn vow.

[May I have the rings….]

These rings that you exchange are an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, signifying to all your unity in marriage. The band is a perfect and unbroken circle, a symbol that your promises, your faithfulness and your love have no end. May God bless these rings that in the giving and the wearing of them you find joy, comfort, strength and peace.

[A places the ring on A’s finger.]
A, I give you this ring
as a sign of my sacred promise,
and with all that I am,
and all that I have,
I will honor you for as long as I live.

[B places the ring on A’s finger.]
A, I give you this ring
as a sign of my sacred promise,
and with all that I am,
and all that I have,
I will honor you for as long as I live.

And all that is left to do is to declare them married in the sight of God and all the world. And to offer a blessing:

May you be for each other a safe place and shelter on the coldest nights and the darkest days.
May you be for each other strength and courage on the steepest hills and in the deepest valleys.
May you be for each other a beacon of light on life’s rocky coast, and a safe harbor in every storm.
May you be for each other the Love Song of Joy that echoes in the stars and seas, banishing fear and doubt, washing away anger and hurt, eternally changing, yet always at home in each other’s heart. Amen.

And then of course, the long awaited and oh so symbolic kiss that seals the promises and offers a taste of joys to come.

Of course, no two weddings are alike. And also, all weddings are alike. The words are different but the hopes and promises they express are the same. And while I witness this traditional wedding by the deep blue sea this afternoon, I am thinking of the Supreme Court’s decision and also of that toddler song: “Love God, Love God, all of us God’s children, for God is Love, God is Love.” Because children may be the ones who already know that it is when we love one another that we see the face of God: in male and female, in our beloved pets, in our gardens, in all of God’s creation. All of us are a reflection of our maker, all of us are created in the image of God, who is Love. We are all meant to live the commandment to love one another, as God has loved us. We were meant to go forth together, in beloved community, part of the family of God, where everyone is precious in the Good Lord’s sight.

The challenge is that we are humans and we fail at our loftiest endeavors and even disappoint ourselves and each other in our ordinary everyday commitments. We break our promises—we are unfaithful, unkind, untrue, even mean-spirited and dishonest at times. All of us are less than we mean to be, at least sometimes. But marriage—not the legal binding but the spiritual promises—marriage represents our highest ideals of commitment, belonging and family. People only want to get married so they can claim for themselves the best God made them to be and then give it away to make of their relationship with their beloved more than either could be apart. That is both the most selfish and the most selfless of desires. That is the blessing and the reason. That is what love does and love is God…God is Love. Love expands our hearts and our understanding and welcomes us to a family table, where everyone who comes finds a place, and room is made over and over again until all can be fed. Love changes us for the better and sometimes even reaches out to astonish us with new possibilities. Marriage, at its best, is one of Love’s finest offerings.

We get married to make a loving family and that is the birthright of everyone of every age and kind and creed. My heart reaches out to this young couple this afternoon and I ask God to send showers of blessings their way. What a challenge and an adventure they are undertaking. May their lives be filled with joy, and strength, and most of all, Love!

One Response to “Marriage”

  1. synying says:

    Wonderful entry, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s decision last week! Marriage truly does need human and divine assistance in this day and age.

RSS feed for comments on this post. And trackBack URL.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.