By Ali Valdez
“Hi, there, I’m the clergy.” I casually introduced myself rolling into the winery and greeted by Kevin, the owner manning an impressive wood-burning oven off the side of his posh new winery overlooking Lake Chelan. Yes, I am the clergy.
My dear friends honored me with the request of officiating their wedding. Seriously, I didn’t think cool things like that could happen to people like me, but when they inquired, I replied something short of, “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.”
Being a clergy person is not unlike applying for Yoga Alliance; if your check clears, you are confirmed in the trade.
But I actually take this clergy thing sort of seriously because it allows me to represent both the joy and gravitas of sacred union without having to go to seminary. No, this was not a daftly-crafted sermon, nor an introduction to homiletics. It was just an opportunity to be the outward voice of love and covenant that is shared sacredly between two people. This got me to thinking. Four different types of thinking. There are many dimensions around the notion of marriage and I was sensitive to wanting to fulfill the needs of the couple but also the emotional state and values of the audience gathered. In this process, I learned a lot about what marital vows might mean to me one day. Yes, even me. And, yes, I consider them a big deal.
1 The Bride and Groom: for any bride and groom, this really is the moment- and it should be! You are surrounded by friends and loved ones, typically in the place of your choosing, enthralling your senses in beauty. The gods drop down to one knee to lay witness to this exceptional moment. As you look into each other’s’ eyes, smiling, perhaps tears slipping down your cheeks, there is no other moment than THAT moment. You are fully present and you believe with everything you’ve got this is the game-changer. My friends had been through a highly stressful, tragic and traumatic few months leading up to their big day.
For them, on some level, it may have symbolized a normalization of life again or the end of a sad chapter.
I stood up under the trellis waiting with the nervous groom while watching my beautiful friend as bride make her way to the aisle. I was welling up a bit because I had seen their love unfold like the blossoming of a fruit tree in the spring time when the skies are clear and the air is warm. I felt like the basket; they were the bouquet. There is a sweetness and gentleness that I see in their daily interactions that played out with pure sincerity the day of the wedding. I hope they felt the magic. I know I did.
2 The Audience: emotionally, there’s a lot of mouths to feed when speaking to a large group on such a tender note. You want everyone to feel like there is something in it for them, because they too are very much a part of the ceremony. They carry the tune of the rasas for the event, and want to be written into the narrative of this love story playing out in front of them. They are invited because on some level, they are stakeholders, notably when the wedding is small and more intimate.
3 Myself: I have never been married. It seemed so easy to agree to officiate but then crafting the vows began to challenge my own right to do so. What do I know of staying the course with a man? As soon as things seem mundane or get sticky, I bounce. I love not being in a relationship and being single. I have never had to bear down when the going got tough nor have I been levitated up so high on the bubble of love to know sweetness of the space in between carried out in daily life. I then wondered why on earth ministers and priests marry people. Honestly, what the fuck do we possibly know about this crazy little thing called love? Then it hit me, we know something about relationship with God, with our deep unwavering connection to the intangible. We dwell in the sphere of the heart in a way that could be categorized as lonely and yet we bear down finding richness and delight in our own ways.
Also, ideally, we are coming from a place of pure and unbiased love.
It seems this way cerebrally anyway. Here is what I actually felt standing in the sun in four inch heels. I felt like, oh my God, these two beautiful people see something in me that entrusts that I will know exactly what to say to express the love they share. That touched me.
I also felt a bit awkward and lonely in my skin and shoes standing by myself at dress rehearsal when they practiced walking down as newly husband-wife and there I stood as the sun was moments from setting, alone. That struck me. This juxtaposition stuck with me that evening. I seldom feel the emotion of loneliness. I doubt I would feel it again in a similar situation, but I felt it there.
By morning, it was gone because I had work to do. I was standing up at the altar waiting for my bride and my groom, but neither belonged to me. I stood, and I waited standing in the spot that is “the moment” just not a moment of mine. I didn’t wish I were married, or wonder what it would be like in her shoes, but I did palpably feel the separation (for lack of a better word) from what the event symbolized and represented to them and what it meant to me. I felt connection but also isolation. Weird, huh? I absolutely loved doing the ceremony, bearing witness to something so beautiful and hopeful, being with my friends at a special moment in their lives. I am so grateful.
4 Friends Divorcing: it was not lost on me that many of my female friends are transitioning out of marriages. It is bittersweet to think about them, although none of them were at the wedding, and what the vows would have sounded like to them. Granted, my vows were written for my friends, and belonged to them and them alone. But there was someone who stood in my shoes once, before my other friends, and perhaps said something similar, and most likely the bride and groom believed it with equal fervor. Or did they?
What takes the reality of “the moment” and over the course of time, wears it down, dulling its shine to the point that it no longer keeps its shape and simply fades away?
As a child of divorce, I am always rooting for people to come together and work things out. I hate seeing marriages fail; that inner child in me takes it personally and with sadness. Once when my best friend was getting married we were hanging out together — our last season as single people (and sadly one of our last true moments of being connected on a deep, soul level) something rare took place. Approaching dusk on the Santa Barbara oceanfront, she was very contemplative not like my other gal pals from college when I was their bridesmaid or maid-of-honor. She always was that kind of woman, a real robust thinker, and emotionally open heart, but for her she shared that there should be bliss and joy, but also a sense of gravitas because this is a big commitment and sacred covenant before God and family. This is the biggest commitment one can make and it’s not to be taken lightly. She is radiantly happy today, a long time since her marriage and I suspect many happy decades will follow. I wish all my friends to be happy, and that if there is marriage involved that it can be sustained joyfully.
This wedding weekend taught me that all things are possible; that truly love is patient; love is kind. I saw first-hand the power of love between a man and a woman, an example of friendship and partnership that has lasting power. Part of my sermon was about the commitment their family and friends there today were making to them in being their supporters and advocates down the long road of life. In my mind that is what love is all about, being there for one another in an authentic and loving way. May love truly always endure and certainly keep no record of wrong.