Wedding Vows or Miranda’s Rights?
A woman reported that she was watching her 5-year-old granddaughter play with her dolls. At one point, she “staged” a wedding, first playing the role of the bride’s mother who assigned specific duties, then suddenly becoming the bride with her “teddy bear” groom.
She picked him up and said to the “minister” presiding over the wedding, “Now you can read us our rights.” Without missing a beat, her granddaughter became the minister who said, “You have the right to remain silent, anything you say may be held against you, you have the right to have an attorney present. You may kiss the bride.” (Sonja R. Ely, Dallas, Oregon. Christian Reader “Rolling Down the Aisle.”)
How shall we measure love? More importantly, how do we guarantee it like in all those beautiful wedding vows? Shouldn’t the officiant be able to give those life-time guarantees of marital bliss? Don’t look to the Bible for advice-you’ll find a lot of polygamy and 500 concubines or the 2 main figures in the New Testament, Jesus and Paul, both unmarried! God’s supposed word has precious little to say about marriage, except for women being submissive to their husbands, which was never good advice!
It has often been said that it is far easier to get married and have children than it is to get a driver’s license! You don’t even have to study for the blood test! I understand that arranged marriages often worked out better because the parents weren’t blinded by the hormonal passion called love and so one wasn’t expected to love your spouse immediately; you literally had to work on learning to love!
Cathie and I celebrated our 38th anniversary last Thursday; I like to say it was the best 20 years of my life, but not usually around Cathie’s earshot. Like most marriages, ours required a lot of hard
work, saintly patience, compromise, and a number of visits to marriage counselors! I did worry when one of the times we saw a husband-wife team who got a divorce sometime after we had stopped seeing them and our marriage was thriving! Perhaps it was that both of us had a good sense of humor that helped, but it was also a life long long process of learning, listening, and loving. Having performed hundreds of weddings and premarital meetings, given pastoral marriage/couple counseling, and lots of reading and training, I truly wish there was a way to predict marital success, say nothing of bliss, and there certainly are many good indicators, but sadly no guarantee. I’ve also heard that sometimes one of the partners actually changes over the years, and woe to any couple that is not willing to deal with change!
Leo Buscaglia was often called the “love doctor” because he wrote so many great books on love and relationships. He wrote: “From Love”
“In discussing love, it would be well to consider the following premises:
One cannot give what he does not possess.
To give love you must possess love.
One cannot teach what he does not understand.
To teach love you must comprehend love.
One cannot know what he does not study.
To study love you must live in love.
One cannot appreciate what he does not recognize.
To recognize love you must be receptive to love.
One cannot have doubt about that which he wishes to trust.
To trust love you must be convinced of love.
One cannot admit what he does not yield to.
To yield to love you must be vulnerable to love.
One cannot live what he does not dedicate himself to.
To dedicate yourself to love you must be forever growing in love.”
We got married in a “hippie wedding” on the side lawn of my parent’s house in NH in 1973; I was 24, Cathie 23. I’m now 62 and Cathie is 33; do you think we might have changed in those 38 years, having three beautiful, amazing girls, both earning Master’s degrees before we even bought a computer?
My wedding services are really sermons on how to have a good marriage and even a good life; I wrote an introduction that has been adapted over the years and then use readings from a wedding booklet that my supervising minister, Edward Frost, had put together and have the couple choose the ones they want, including a choice of vows, or they can write their own, like Cathie and I did. Very few couples now do that these days, and many want more traditional ones.
Let me share some my wedding service sermon because it is really about co-creating a religious and loving relationship. I almost always have people ask for copies after I’m done, or have people tell me that it was the most spiritual/practical wedding they’ve ever attended. Interestingly, most of the weddings and sacred unions I’ve performed have been for nonmembers who were looking for what they described as “spiritual but not religious.” I include the “10 Suggestions” that you heard read earlier this morning.
Wedding Intro: We are here today because two people met, and something special happened, something unexplainable, something mysterious. For some unknown reason, a loving relationship developed. Call it love; call it God; call it chemical reaction; call it the reason for living.
It really doesn’t matter what name we assign, when two individuals melt into a new being called a couple, who, if they are willing to work incredibly hard on making their relationship blossom, may enjoy the fruits together.
The Sufi Poet, Rumi, writes:
The minute I heard my first love story/I started looking for you/not knowing/how blind that was./Lovers/don’t finally meet somewhere. /They’re in each other all along.
All religion, as well as life, depends on our understanding of love, of our commitment to the Spirit of Life. I believe in the transforming power of love to move mountains, to bring joy in our lives, To strengthen us through sorrows, and to give meaning to our uncertainties. Marriage is religion itself on a smaller scale; without love and faith and its corresponding behavior, we are all atheists who believe in nothing at all, no matter what our words or church membership says. If we are committed with all our heart, soul, and mind, to love and to our loved ones, and to the Spirit of Life, we will be living religion.
Make time for each other as well as your self; learn to truly listen- not give advice, not try to fix it, -but just listen and have empathy for the other.
Say “I love you” a lot. Appreciate each other. Compliment each other. Follow your bliss. Co-create a wonderful future.
If we live life with love and love others, participate in a community of love, we will have that love returned ten-fold, and that will give us the strength, faith, and hope to weather even the worst storm.
May you become dear friends as well as lovers as you grow older and wise together
Remember that no one can make another person happy, just as no one can make another person angry or sad. We choose how we respond; and we soon learn what things we might do or say that results in a happy, sad, or an angry reaction.
If you would be happy, take each other’s feelings, fears, strengths, into consideration in your words and actions. Don’t expect your partner to read your mind; speak it instead so that there won’t be confusion. Buy her flowers for no apparent reason; buy him flowers for no apparent reason.
Don’t keep a memory file of faults, fights, or perceived slights.
Let the mistakes of the past go. Find your balance between utter selflessness and the true needs of the self. Do not try to change your partner. If there is something that bothers you about your partner, something that your partner does or does not do that drives you crazy, change the way that you react and you may find your partner changing as well, not because you tried to change him or her, but because you yourself changed.
Remember when we were in school, we learned math by solving those mysterious and puzzling problems. As we get older, and if we are lucky, a little wiser, we realize that we are still learning how to solve life’s problems, but not in a book. We must learn how to use the algebra of love and life.
Remember that we are co-creators of our lives and our world, but that there will also be things beyond our control. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
From Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet.
“For one human being to love another human being, that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation. That is why young people, who are beginners in everything, are not yet capable of love: it is something they must learn. With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered around their solitary, anxious, upward-beating heart, they must learn to love. But learning-time is always a long, secluded time ahead and far on into life, is solitude, a heightened and deepened kind of aloneness for the person who loves. Loving does not at first mean merging, surrendering, and uniting with another person…, it is a high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world in himself for the sake of another person; it is a great, demanding claim on him, something that chooses him and calls him to vast distances. Only in this sense, as the task of working on themselves … may young people use the love that is given to them. Merging and surrendering and every kind of communion is not for them…; it is the ultimate, is perhaps that for which human lives are as yet barely large enough.”
“Courtesy and consideration even in anger and adversity are the seeds of compassion. Love is the fruit of compassion. Trust, love, and respect are the sustaining virtues of marriage. They enable us to learn from each situation, and help us to realize that everywhere we turn we meet ourself.” Anonymous
The following is by Unitarian minister, Theodore Parker, the 19th century social reformer, and early feminist who often prayed by starting, “Dear Father/Mother God:” “Marriage is a gradual, a fraction of us at a time. A happy wedlock is a long falling in love. A perfect and complete marriage, where wedlock is everything you could ask and the ideal of marriage becomes actual, is not common, perhaps as rare as the perfect personal beauty. Men and women are married fractionally, now a small fraction, then a large fraction. Very few are married totally, and then only, I think, after some forty or fifty years of gradual approach and experiment. Such as large and sweet fruit is a complete marriage, that it needs a long summer to ripen in, and then a long winter to mellow and season it. But a really, happy marriage of love and judgment between noble men and women is one of the things so very handsome, that if the sun were, as the Greek poets fabled, a God that God might stop the world, and hold it still now and then, in order to look all day long on some examplent hereof, to feast the diving eyes on such a spectacle of beauty.
Thomas A. Kempis was a late Medieval Catholic monk of the 15th century and the probable author of one of the best known Christian books on devotion, The Imitation of Christ, wrote much about love, and though celibate as a monk, he seemed to understand love and even relationships as religious as well as secular.
“Love is a great thing, a great good in every way; it alone lightens what is heavy, and leads smoothly over all roughness. For it carries a burden without being burdened, and lifted up, not held back by anything low. Love wants to be free, and far from all worldly desires, so that its inner vision may not be dimmed and good fortune bind it or misfortune cast it down. Nothing is sweeter than love; nothing stronger, nothing higher, nothing wider; nothing happier, nothing fuller, nothing better in heaven and earth; for love is born of God.
Love keeps watch and is never unaware, even when it sleeps; tired, it is never exhausted; hindered, it is never defeated; alarmed, it is never afraid; but like a living flame and a burning torch it bursts upward and blazes forth.
Love is quick, sincere, dutiful, joyous, and pleasant; brave, patient, faithful, prudent, serene, and vigorous; and it never seeks itself. For whenever we seek ourselves, we fall away from love. Love is watchful, humble, and upright; not weak, or frivolous, or directed toward vain things; temperate, pure, steady, calm and alert in all the senses. Love is trusting and hoping, even when it doesn’t taste sweetness, for without pain no one can live in love.”
Notice that nowhere have I said that marriage is only between a man and a woman, but that it is about love and commitment to a relationship that is deeply spiritual and universally religious. So too we must be in religious relationship as a beloved community, a church, a place we make sacred by our gathering, but also by our behavior.
When I have a premarital session with a couple, whatever their gender, I usually ask the same questions about their past history. Have they been married before? If so, what did they learn about themselves that they will bring to this relationship that will be different. Are their parents still married or divorced? Either way will influence them in their relationships. I ask, how their parents disagreed or fought, and then how they each act when they disagree or are angry. I suggest reading the John Gray book on how men and women communicate differently, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.
Gender here is not limited to male-female, that is just a convenient term for generalizing. We might even call it more preferred style of communicating than male or female style. Communication is the key and
must be continually worked on to make it effective and truly loving. And also important to love and to religious relationship is the balance of our deepest needs as an individual and our egotism, our need to have our own way! It is usually better to be loving than to be right! I often say in talking about letting the past go, that they should never fight about anything that happened before this day of the wedding; anything that happened previously is off-limits to bring up!
Performing weddings is one of my favorite parts of ministry; it is seeing people usually at the height of their happiness; if only we could bottle that and sell it back to them later on during the hard times! We all strive for loving relationships; indeed it is what often makes life worth living. May love guide us.
Amen and Namaste, the divinity within me greets the divinity within you…