July 11, 2006
Ministry of Two
I was invited some months ago to preside over the wedding of two friends, Andrew and Jen, in California. The ceremony finally arrived and took place this past Sunday, on a beautifully sunny day at the Thomas Fogarty winery in Woodside, California, in the heart of the Bay Area. I am not a minister by trade nor by calling; this was, as far as I now know, a one-time thing.
In any event, several people at the wedding asked that I make the greeting and ceremony available online. Here it is.
Welcome, family and friends.
When I learned that Jen and Andrew had chosen a winery for the setting of their wedding, I thought it particularly appropriate. After all, the making of wine isn't so different from a marriage. It takes good roots, good soil, light, love, and yes, sweat and toil to make a great wine -- but it's a joyful toil, given the rewards. The result is a wonderful, complex, almost living thing which is the source of a rich variety of pleasures and flavors, much like marriage can and should be.
So, I thank and welcome each and every one of you who is here today, because you are the roots and soil from which Andrew and Jen grew, two people who mean a great deal to me, two people about to formalize a beautiful union. Like a fine wine, I am excited to see how they grow better with age.
I've selected two readings for today. The first is from the letters of Rainer Maria Rilke.
Marriage is in many ways a simplification of life, and it naturally combines the strengths and wills of two young people so that, together, they seem to reach farther into the future than they did before. Above all, marriage is a new task and a new seriousness, a new demand on the strength and generosity of each partner, and a great new danger for both.
The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of their solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realisation is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side by side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.
We'll come back to these thoughts in a moment, after a second reading from Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities.
When you have arrived at Phyllis, you rejoice in observing all the bridges over the canals, each different from the others: cambered, covered, on pillars, on barges, suspended, with tracery balustrades. And what a variety of windows looks down on the streets: mullioned, moorish, lancet, pointed, surmounted by lunettes or stained-glass roses; how many kinds of pavement cover the ground: cobbles, slabs, gravel, blue and white tiles. At every point the city offers surprises to your view: a caper bush jutting from the fortress' walls, the statues of three queens on corbels, an onion dome with three smaller onions threaded on the spire. "Happy the man who has Phyllis before his eyes each day and who never ceases seeing the things it contains," you cry, with regret at having to leave the city when you can barely graze it with your glance.
But it so happens that, instead, you must stay in Phyllis and spend the rest of your days there. Soon the city fades before your eyes, the rose windows are exspunged, the statues on the corbels, the domes. Like all of Phyllis' inhabitants, you follow zigzag lines from one street to another, you distinguish the patches of sunlight from the patches of shade, a door here, a stairway there, a bench where you can put down your basket, a hole where your foot stumbles if you are not careful. All theh rest of the city is invisible. Phyllis becomes a space in which routes are drawn between points suspended in the void: the shortest way to reach that certain merchant's tent, avoiding that certain creditor's window.
Millions of eyes look up at windows, bridges, capers, and they might be scanning a blank page. Many are the cities like Phyllis, which elude the gaze of all, except the man who catches them by surprise.
I chose these two readings today as a pairing of things I wanted to say to Jen and Andrew, two things which play off of one another. When I first encountered the Rilke, I was struck by a peculiar sadness. I focused on the gaps between people, that uncrossable distance that separates us, two skins which often seem to be enormous walls of granite, or of lead, for all their impenetrableness. But as time has gone by, I've grown to view that distance as a source of continually renewing joy -- that despite those gulfs, love acts as a bridge to span that gap and allow two people to draw such rich pleasures, each in the company of the other. That over time two people grow and change, and each of them, with love and respect, watches over the other, in a full knowingness that though separate, they grow side by side and together. Constantly shout out your joy for each other from the parapets of these walls, so that the bridge remains strong, and so that you may never forget.
In the Calvino passage, I am reminded reading it again here of how full of wonder and awe each of your personal cities strikes me. Andrew and Jen, you are each glorious cities, which offer rewards beyond measure to your inhabitants, so long as they never cease to see them. To meld the two quotes a bit, you should begin to see each other as caretakers for the other's city, which will ever renew itself and grow, and change. Some districts will fall into disuse, some will be forever filled with light and crowds, but all of it will be the city that you watch over and love.
In a moment or two, each of you will place a ring upon the finger of the other and exchange vows. It's a very intimate moment, and all of us here are proud to be a part of it -- everyone here is focused on you, now, in the ceremony. A little bracing, isn't it? Perhaps a little scary? Before all of us, each and every one of us focused on you? Indeed, you could say the entirety of my ministry is focused on you.
You have spent a lot of time over the last months designing and considering not so much the ceremony, but the reception afterwards. But what I want to say to you now is that in each and every day, you must find a way to remember the ceremony -- to share a moment of intimacy, be it a physical remembrance such as a lingering kiss, or an emotional connection through the deep and meaningful sharing of some part of you that you have never revealed before. Each of you, like a city, has an enormous number of places to visit -- more than any one person could visit in a lifetime... but not so many that you cannot try.
Life is much like the reception -- it is all the things that take a lot more planning and care and which really end up driving you a little crazy, because it never happens as you expect. But the marriage... the marriage is here, in the ceremony, in the moments that you share alone, together. Promise me, while you exchange these vows, that you will find time in each and every day for the ceremony, a time when you don't think at all about the reception, a time when it is just the two of you, sharing an intimate connection, remembering or revealing a part of your cities that drew you to one another. Do this, and it will last.
And now, enough from me. Thank you for allowing me to share in the intimate moment that presents itself, the sharing of your vows, and the exchange of your rings.
¹It should be noted that I actually started the service by saying "I am Iron Man" and making a remark that I was in the wrong page of my missal because that the start of my purification ritual for beating Andrew at Guitar Hero. The bride was a little teary from her processional, so I ad-libbed something to lighten the mood for a moment. Both bride and groom looked amazing. (back)