A wedding sermon: To expand and include

In a moment, we will share candlelight in this circle of friends and family. Sharing the light is a symbol of the meaning of marriage. Just as one candle shines its light in the darkness and with other candles expands the field of vision, so the nature of the rose bud is to open and expand into the world. Each of you receives a rose from the bridal couple.

Like the rose bud, the human soul defines itself in the same way. The soul’s nature and purpose is to expand and include, by offering a courageous ‘yes’ to life.[1]The soul, in all human goodness, always says ‘yes’. Wherever and whenever ‘no’ must be said, it will follow the initial ‘yes’. ‘No’ never leads in a life of faith, and love. ‘No’ will find clarity and effectiveness only after the gracious lead of ‘yes’ – to any and all of life’s circumstances and situations, marriage included.

The primary words in a wedding service, traditionally and effectively, are spoken by the bride to the groom, and the groom to the bride: “I do.” In other words, “Yes! I will.” You cannot come to a wedding service without the energy of the “yes” defining this very moment. Thanks be to God!

In the time I have journeyed with the bridal couple in preparation for this day, I have witnessed in them a celebration of who they are as a couple. I have witnessed an emerging and resilient joy at their union. And the gift within them.

Each of us has a gift inherent and living within us. I invite you to participate now in a brief guided meditation to experience and touch that gift within your life. You may close your eyes or focus on the rose in front of you:

‘Imagine, for a moment, a rose bud. At first, the rosebud is closed and enveloped by its green sepals. Now, imagine that the sepals start to open, turn back, and reveal the petals inside – tender, delicate, still closed.

‘Now, the petals themselves slowly begin to open. [Such is the process of growth in us.] As you imagine the petals slowly begin to open, perhaps you can become aware of a blossoming also occurring in the depths of your being. You may feel that something in you is opening and coming to light.

‘As you keep visualizing the rose, you feel that its rhythm is your rhythm, its opening is your opening. You keep watching the rose as it opens up to the light and the air, as it reveals itself in all its beauty. You smell its perfume and absorb it into your being.

‘Now gaze into the very center of the rose, where its life is most intense. Let an image emerge from there. This image will represent what is most beautiful, most meaningful, most creative that wants to come to light in your life right now. It can be an image of absolutely anything. Just let it emerge spontaneously, without forcing or thinking.

‘Now stay with this image form some time and absorb its quality. The image may have a message for you – a verbal or a non-verbal message. Be receptive to it.’[2]This is the gift of the rose for you today, on this joyous occasion of the your union.

There is something beautiful emerging out of this expanding and inclusive circle. From the union of two, comes the growth of an emerging new family, including more and more people, an expansion born out of the ‘yes’ of love, life, and light.

In your opening notes about the service, dear couple, you quoted from the bible a verse from Proverbs (17:17). “A friend loves at all times.” The verse goes on to say that these relationships bear together not just the good times but the challenges of life, too. Despite the dissonance inherent in all relationships, someone stands by you. This, too, is an important image for the journey of marriage.

When I bought the same Sony receiver that you have in your home, I connected them to some old Sony tower speakers that I’ve used for years. You’d think that the same brand would create a perfect compatibility. But, I neglected to consider what connected these two parts. To connect the speakers to the receiver, I used the same, old speaker wires whose ends were frayed to put it mildly.

As a result, whenever the receiver is plugged into the electricity, I can hear this faint but persistent humming sound. For some reason, the wires inhibit a perfect compatibility between speaker and receiver. For a perfectionist such as myself, it drives me crazy. Needless to say, I’m on the hunt for some new wire that will, hopefully, more adequately convey and balance the connective energy between speaker and receiver.

In other words, the connection will not always be perfect. In truth, conflict is part of healthy life. “A life without conflicts is by necessity only half a life,” I read recently. “A certain degree of stress is good and necessary; and shows you inside of the true Mystery”[3]of all relationships, even good ones.

The healthiest of relationships will carry some subtle dissonances. But, when the marriage focuses intentionally on its fundamental purpose and nature to ‘make music’ – staying with the analogy – then the grace of God is experienced in all beauty and wonder and goodness. Because when I crank that receiver, the whole neighbourhood can hear what I’m playing! And it’s a sweet, clear sound.

When light does what it is meant to be – despite the darkness all around …

When the rose bud does what it is designed to do – expand and include …

When the human soul, before anything else, says, “Yes!” to love and life …

When, in the midst of the hard realities of life, the music of love and gentleness and compassion sound to all the world around …

Then, we know that we do and are, what we were meant for.  Then, your marriage communicates to yourselves and to those around all that is good in this life we are given.

[1]Richard Rohr, “Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer” (New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2014), p.23-24.

[2]Jacqueline Syrup Bergan and Marie Schwan, CSJ, “Love, A Guide for Prayer” (Maryland: The Word Among Us Press, 2004), p.78-79.

[3]Richard Rohr, ibid., p.19.

Marriage: for the heavy-haul

“For if they fall, one will lift up the other” (Ecclesiastes 4:10)
On the journey of life, how well we do depends on with whom we travel. And how well we travel together. I like the name of your business — the brand of your trucking company: “JNB Heavy Haul”. You are not hauling the light stuff. You’re challenging yourself to haul the heaviest stuff that can be pulled by a tractor-trailer on the highways and byways of this continent.
On the road of life, how well we travel together depends, furthermore, on the degree of touch in the relationship. Yes, touch. In our touch-averse culture, the institution of marriage offers couples the benefit and freedom to exercise that public and private right with the fullness, health and joy with which touching another was meant to be.
The popular reading, “The Blessing of the Hands”, brings to our minds this image of holding the hand of your beloved. What is powerful about this poem is that it not only describes those delightful and joyous occasions when hands are held in the sweetness of love. It also brings to mind the larger picture of youth AND ageing, happy AND sad — and even hints at the prospect of death. This perspective includes the heavy-haul of life.
In the blissful exchange of wedding vows you make in the prime of the first half of your life, it is important to sound this deeper note. Because even in the most challenging moments of marriage, life and love, those hands that hold one another can mean everything. The sense of touch with the beloved can get us through times when disappointment, failure, loss, grief, fear and the need for forgiveness press close — as will happen in everyone’s life.
The image of holding hands in those times are equally important to bring to light. Such a bond, forged in the anvil of struggle and conflict, is nearly indestructible. When two people join their hearts, minds and bodies, a third element is brought into the relationship — you can call it ‘the relationship’. And when this happens, you feel it — and everyone else knows it and must respect it: “A threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). If you ever take ballroom dancing and learn the standard, international steps of, let’s say, a waltz, you soon recognize this ‘third partner’ that is the energy linking two individuals. Both partners step in time with one another and respond in kind to this field of energy between and surrounding them. Call it God.
God, who created you both, makes an eternal promise that will never be broken: “I am continually with you; you hold my right hand” (Psalm 73:23). Originally this promise was made to a people desperate in life’s challenging circumstances and struggles, travelling through the wilderness of life. This promise is made for the long-haul and the heavy-haul of life.
I recently read the story of a woman who had walked seven hundred miles as a refugee to escape a violent war. She was finally able to cross a national boundary out of the war zone. She walked all that way and brought with her an eight-year-old girl, who walked beside her. For seven hundred miles, the child held her hand tightly. When they reached safety, the girl loosened her grip, and the woman looked at her hand: It was raw and bloody with an open wound, because the little girl had held tightly in her fearfulness. This is no casual hand-holding. This is a life-or-death grip that does not let go. (Walter Brueggemann, “Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now”, WJK Kentucky, 2014, p.88-89)
Upon arriving at their destination, can you imagine the joy, relief and gratitude expressed by both the woman and her eight-year-old travel companion? Their relationship is sealed for life, no matter what!
Earlier this year, a colleague of mine from Toronto was celebrating her 25th silver anniversary. In fact it was Valentine’s Day when she and her husband were driving by one of the biggest cemeteries in Toronto. At that moment they were discussing what they should do, to celebrate this joyous occasion. They wondered if they ought spend some money on themselves, treat themselves, to mark such an auspicious point in their lives.
At that moment they passed by the entrance-way to the sprawling cemetery grounds. And hanging over the ornate gate was a great canvass banner with the words printed in Valentine’s Day red: “One-day sale only: 10% off burial plots!”. The couple looked at each other with wide eyes. A few hours later, they drove out of the cemetery chuckling about how they had just dropped $8000 for themselves on their silver anniversary …. to buy two burial plots side by side!
This puts a different slant on those traditional wedding vows, “till death do us part!” And yet, they do so in life with confidence and faith that marital love can stand the test of time, thanks be to God, for the long-haul and the heavy-haul!