How is a wedding like a crucible, and how is it like an hourglass?
A crucible, for anyone not actively practicing chemistry or alchemy, is a container or a situation in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new.
A wedding is like a crucible because you pour two people into it and they emerge transformed – not as one person, of course, but as a newly married entity.
For the wedding officiant, it can be a little confusing as to where to place all those alchemical elements in order to get the desired transformation. For example, why do the vows tend to come with the ring exchange? Why do some couples choose readings? Why does the kiss come last? That’s when it is helpful to think about the wedding as an hourglass.
In this digital age, I feel compelled to define what an hourglass is. It’s how we used to keep track of time. An hourglass is a glass vessel divided into two compartments by a very narrow waist. Sand pours down from one end of the vial to the other in the space of an hour. (If you happen to still own one, it can be an effective and quiet timekeeper for meditation sessions.)
As you will see in the diagram I’ve created below, the wedding starts with a bunch of scattered elements (aka relatives and friends) arriving together at an agreed-upon place and time. That’s why we officiants start by acknowledging out loud why we are here, “gathered together,” so everyone can start on the same beat.
The rituals and readings slowly funnel everyone’s attention to the key spot, the narrow waist of the hourglass, which is when the crucible effect – the transformation – takes place. After that, we open things back up again, and generally end with a community gathering such as the wedding reception. I’m tinkering with this concept, so for any new officiants, I welcome your comments!
A reader wondered about how to be both officiant and Mother of the bride. What a great question!
My father was a Humanist minister and he taught me how to officiate at weddings. When I was ready to commit to Mark, a second marriage for us both, we asked Dad to officiate. We married in October, in a beautiful waterside restaurant, and then sat down with our 70 guests for dinner.
Most people knew that Dad was a wedding officiant, so it wasn’t surprising to the guests. Since he was already up at the ‘altar’ area, I walked down the aisle unaccompanied. That suited us both well.
I still have the ceremony he wrote for us in a red folder. When I reviewed it for this post, I was reminded that Dad had his private opinions about the existence of an Almighty, but because Mark and I requested a way to bring our faith to the forefront, he wove in phrases such as “With God ever present,” and “God, bless these rings,” etc. He wore a black judge’s robe during the ceremony and the removed it and became a dinner guest, and father of the bride, afterward.
What about when it is your first time officiating at a wedding, and you are a parent as well? I think it’s important to make it clear to the guests that your role of parent is different from your role as officiant. Here are some things to consider:
A reader recently asked for a sample sermon that she could not find in the book. I think she was referring to the wedding homily, which I only discussed briefly (page 50) and called "Words of advice to the wedding couple."
Ministers and priests call this a wedding homily. Merriam-Webster defines a homily as a "short sermon."
Short is good. Rev. Michael Curry's wedding sermon to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was thoughtful and entertaining, but could not be described as short.
When you write your homily, you might talk about how the couple should give each other the benefit of the doubt, be slow to anger and quick to forgive -- all the stuff that makes for a good marriage. Often, priests and ministers also use this as an opportunity to talk about teachings from scriptures and spiritual leaders, or the value of the church.
Here are some other homilies, and another, to get you started.
You can use whatever pieces of homilies you find, whatever speaks to your heart and your couple -- although I would not use an entire wedding homily from one person.
My friend Dan married a couple last year. For his homily, he began:
Everyone has advice for newlyweds.
X and G, I offer these very sage words of advice:
Always separate lights and darks when washing with hot water!
Whenever you're wrong, admit it.
Whenever you're right, shut up!
When the guests stopped laughing, he recited some lines from a well-loved poem by Wilferd Paterson, "The Art of a Good Marriage." (Here is the poem in its entirety.) By the time he finished reading, no doubt, everyone there wanted to be a better person:
Happiness in marriage is not something that just happens.
A good marriage must be created.
In marriage the little things are the big things.
It is never being too old to hold hands.
It is remembering to say “I love you” at least once a day.
It is never going to sleep angry. . .
It is standing together facing the world. . .
It is speaking words of appreciation
and demonstrating gratitude in thoughtful ways.
It is having the capacity to forgive and forget.
It is giving each other an atmosphere in which each can grow. . .
It is a common search for the good and the beautiful. . .
It is not only marrying the right partner;
it is being the right partner.
Some couples just want to say “I do.” Others are happy to simply repeat the traditional, “For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.” And still others want to write their own vows.
There is no wrong way or right decision; only what is most comfortable for you. If speaking aloud during your wedding is an unwanted load of pressure on an already full day, don’t do it.
On the other hand, if you are comfortable reading a vow you’ve written beforehand, here is a sweet template to get you started. Once you’re started, feel free to throw out the template.
Lisa’s throwaway template:
(Name), I love you because. . . .
I love your . . .
I love that you . . .
And how you make me . . .
I promise that . . . .
And I promise to . . . .
A few more thoughts:
At a minimum, try to write five or seven lines.. At maximum, anything longer than a page is a little rough on your guests.
If you are a funny person, it’s OK to add a touch of humor. If you have gone through very difficult circumstances with your beloved, you can mention this, but overall, try to keep everything in the vows positive and upbeat.
Some couples feel better if they know what each other will say, so they write or review their vows together. Others prefer to keep them secret from each other until the ceremony. If you choose the latter, try to let each other know how long your vow will be for a better balance.
It’s best to jot them down. Trying to memorize them adds another element of risk, which might keep you from being fully present during your wedding ceremony.
Finally, don't be afraid to try writing your vows. If they come from your heart, there is no wrong way to write them!
Some couples just hate the hoopla of a wedding and reception, but they don’t want to go to City Hall either. They want the intimacy of a tailored ceremony in a beautiful environment. This is perfectly achievable.
I met one such couple at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts, near a lake with swans and ducks, bringing my friend Susan as witness and ring-bearer. By taking some nicely posed pics of them on her phone and emailing them, she also became the photographer – thanks, Susan! We stood under trees in a pool of dappled light.
The groom and bride had asked for a very brief ceremony as well. Here’s the gist of what we said, and no, I didn't use their real names:
We are gathered here today to create a wedding!
Beatrice and Dante, today you enter the next phase of your growing relationship
by declaring your love for each other
and your intention to live together for the rest of your lives.
Beatrice and Dante, treat yourselves and each other with respect,
and remind yourselves often of what brought you together.
Take responsibility for making one another feel safe,
and give the highest priority to the tenderness, gentleness, and kindness
that your beloved deserves.
Please prepare now to make your vows.
Dante, before you stands Beatrice, a smart, beautiful, hard-working,
and stubborn woman who will continue to grow and change.
Will you have Beatrice to be your beloved wife,
to share your life with her,
and do you pledge that you will love, honor and tenderly care for her,
in ease and adversity, and to keep your heart open to her
from this day forward?
Beatrice, before you stands Dante, a good, kind-hearted man
who will continue to grow and change. Will you have Dante to be your beloved husband,
to share your life with him,
and do you pledge that you will love, honor, and tenderly care for him,
in ease and adversity, and to keep your heart open to him
from this day forward?
Words are powerful. And to follow them, we use rings as a physical token and ever-present reminder of the words spoken here today. (rings are passed)
Dante, repeat after me:
(DANTE REPEATS EACH LINE)
Beatrice, I give you this ring
in token and pledge
of my abiding love.
With this ring, I join my life to yours.
Beatrice, repeat after me:
(BEATRICE REPEATS EACH LINE)
Dante, I give you this ring
in token and pledge
of my abiding love.
With this ring, I join my life to yours.
May the steps you have just taken toward each other help you find new strength.
May you find comfort, security, and vitality with each other.
may your home be a place of happiness for all who enter it,
a place for growing, a place to come home to after traveling,
a place for good food, and friendship and laughter.
And should shadows and darkness fall within its rooms,
may it still be a place of hope and strength for you
and for those who are entrusted to your care.
I call on all of us present to witness that Beatrice and Dante,
have exchanged their promises,
and according to the laws of the State of California,
they are now husband and wife.
You may kiss each other for the first time as a married couple.
The ceremony took less than ten minutes, which suited them perfectly. Small children played nearby, ducks quacked, and the newlyweds strolled off, hand in hand, toward their honeymoon.
It’s not uncommon for one or both of the wedding couple to have parents who have passed away.
L.R. recently wrote to me and asked if there is an appropriate way to incorporate the memory of deceased parents into the wedding ceremony. She went on to add, “We want this to be a happy moment and I want to be careful not to turn it into a memorial service.” At the same time, as she said, “This is a cherished moment when they should be present and it will give her comfort taking this big step in her life.”
When I thank people for coming to the wedding, after opening the ceremony, I often say, “We also want to acknowledge those important people who are not sitting with us today.” If someone couldn't travel for health or other reasons, or is serving overseas, this is a good time to name them.
Then I say, “And especially, (the deceased person’s name or names). He (or she, or they) ARE here in spirit, and in our hearts.” It is perfectly OK to have a poignant moment in an otherwise cheerful ceremony, and it allows everyone to welcome the memory of those people into the gathering.
As an alternative, the couple could place a photo or two of the parents or loved ones at the sign-in or gift area in the reception. The photos could be happy, so they are easily remembered with joy. Might there be a wedding photo of them?
In some ceremonies, I’ve seen the couple come down the aisle together before the ceremony started, and quietly light a votive candle in front of photos of the deceased parents. No words were spoken; some guests understood and others didn't see it, but it was a sweet and solemn gesture before a joyful occasion.
Finally, if there were particularly characteristic phrases or funny things the parents or loved ones were known for, your couple might like to have some of that woven into your celebrant's address. For example, you could mention that a sense of humor is critical to a long, good marriage (it is!), and thank goodness the bride got a boatload of humor from her dear parents.
I would choose 2-3 possibilities, then try to have an informal chat with your couple to see what sounds most desirable to them. My couples always appreciated knowing about that part long before the big day.
The Martha Stewart Weddings editors are sweet to work with! It was fun to chat with Real Weddings intern Elisha Hahm for her blog about ceremony readings that went live this week. She chose some of my favorite readings. Yes, the Anne Bradstreet poem was written nearly four hundred years ago, and it still sounds like love today.
It turns out that Mrs. Bradstreet was a great-great-ever-so-great aunt of mine.
How do you pick readings for your wedding ceremony? I often ask the couple to give me three adjectives to describe the ceremony they envision. So if a couple agrees on, “theatrical, romantic, and upbeat” or “intimate, simple, and brief,” these provide two very different tones. I listen for the tone that they want, which guides me to the types of readings I might present to them.
Interestingly, children's literature is gaining popularity in weddings. More people are choosing excerpts of the book by Dr. Seuss: Oh, The Places You’ll Go! I've also heard part of The Little Prince, where the fox explains why he loves his rose. And the part about becoming Real from The Velveteen Rabbit. These readings can touch an audience deeply because we might remember reading them as children.
Here's an interesting alternative to the standard reading: A handful of guests can rise and read brief passages, like definitions of marriage, or blessings for the couple. Tell your family members and friends ahead of time to write a line or two and bring it with them. In a wedding between a Jewish groom and his Chinese bride, each of their parents read meaningful proverbs about marriage in either Yiddish or Mandarin.
As the young woman cut my hair she told me about a wedding she had attended the past weekend near Russian River.
“The bride and groom weren’t the type to hire a reception hall. And they had just a little money to spend. There were maybe sixteen of us from all over the country—ALL over. And we brought tents and equipment, and it was potluck. Because everyone knew they had to feed themselves, we ended up with more than enough delicious food.
“Then a friend of the couple’s married them under the trees. He had gotten ordained. It was a pretty wedding to watch, although we kept the dress informal. And then we just had a good time enjoying each other’s company for three days, hikes, and the river, and sitting by the fire toasting marshmallows at night.”
That's a California wedding that John Muir would have liked.
Earlier this year, I had the honor of officiating at the wedding between a dear friend and colleague, Alison Hotchkiss, and her fiance, Markus Rinderknecht. Everything about that wedding was heartfelt, intimate, and completely romantic.
I met Alison years ago while tagging along to my father's weddings. We have worked together on several occasions. She creates breathtaking events. She is a generous and very brightly shining soul who has managed an incredibly busy business as a destination wedding and events planner. In addition to that, and a good deal of travel, Alison wrote two books that have been extremely helpful to wedding couples: Destination Wedding Planner: The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Wedding from Afar; and All the Essentials Wedding Planner: The Ultimate Tool for Organizing Your Big Day (shown here).
Alison is also one of my fairy godmothers. In early 2012, I met her for a latte at the Caffe Trieste in San Francisco's North Beach. I hesitantly outlined an idea for a book, and not only did she encourage me, but she also insisted I write up the idea which she would share with her editor at Chronicle Books. That conversation changed the course of my life.
A couple of weeks ago, Alison Events production manager Shira Savada, who also knows a whole lot about weddings, kindly interviewed me. Here is my interview on the Alison Events web site, as well as some tips about making your wedding uniquely yours.
Thank you, Ms. Rinderknecht and Ms. Savada!
Here are some thoughts about weddings, writing, and the world. Enjoy.