Sometimes, our lives are like a joke, or at least the opening of one.
Yesterday, Ginger and I performed a wedding together that included a Buddhist, a Catholic, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Jew, and a lapsed Presbyterian. She looked at the gathered crowd of friends and family and said, “It sounds like we should all go into a bar.”
The setting was amazing. We were standing on a hillside on the grounds of the Beach Plum Inn on Martha’s Vineyard, the late summer sun shining down like a spotlight. The ceremony began with the groom, a Pakistani, and all of his extended family parading down the hill with him under a colorful canopy, banging drums and cheering. Not long before, many of them had cheered as Ginger and I got to the Inn. At 10:45 that morning, we had walked out of our worship service early (with appropriate explanation) and driven the fifty-three miles to Wood’s Hole to catch the Vineyard Ferry, which left at 12:15. We got there with seven minutes to spare. We docked in Vineyard Haven where they had a guide for us to follow to the Inn, where we arrived at 1:45 – in time to put on our robes, drink a glass of water, and start the ceremony at 2:00.
We had lots of reasons to cheer. Almost two years ago to the day, the groom was beginning chemotherapy; we weren’t sure if he was going to live. Almost six years ago, after the fall of the Twin Towers, he answered a knock on his apartment door one evening and was greeted by two FBI agents who interrogated him for several hours without allowing him to make a phone call or even get up and go to the bathroom simply because he was from Pakistan and his name was “suspicious.” As of yesterday, this week in September will now be remembered as a week of celebration because their wedding far outshines those former fears.
The couple, and most of their gathered congregation, defines their spirituality different from mine. We are not without commonalties, but (how do I say this?) they would be tentative in places where I might be more emphatic when in comes to Christianity and Jesus in particular. And they called and said they really wanted Ginger and I to perform the ceremony. When the four of us met together, we had great discussions not only about the details of the wedding but also the spiritual significance we found there. Though Ginger and I were challenged, at times, to find the vocabulary to give voice to our diversity, what happened as we stood in the Vineyard sun was filled with the winds of the Spirit.
One of the things the couple wanted to do was to have everyone touch the rings before they put them on, as a symbol of the connectedness with and the support they felt from everyone there. Ginger and I had been trying to figure out how to make that work all week. As we sat on the ferry going to the Island, Ginger said, “I’ve got it.” We worked out the details together.
At the appropriate time, Ginger took the rings and walked out into the middle of the congregation. She explained what the couple wanted and then explained how we were going to adjust their idea to make the same point. She invited those closest to her to put their hands on her shoulders and then the next layer of people to touch the shoulder of the person nearest them until we were all connected. The contagion of contact rippled all the way up to where I was standing with the bride and groom. The visual image was startling and sumptuous. “Now,” I said, “when you look at your rings in the days and years to come, you will be reminded of the promises you made here and you will always know that you’ve got people.”
Sara Miles talks about marriage in her book as well. (Yeah, I thought I was through quoting her as well.) She and her partner were among those who were married in San Francisco when the mayor made provision for equal marriage, and before the state voided them all. She describes a scene where the priest at her church calls on those gathered to bless the marriages in much the same fashion as Ginger called us to bless the rings. Miles says,
The marriage of a couple, I understood then, was more than personal: it was a rite binding people into community and, beyond that, pointing to the union of all humanity with God. A marriage such as ours prophesied the politically inconvenient but spiritually resonant truth that the unlikely and outcast were part of God’s creation, in all ways. It was like communion: when some people were shut out of the rite, the picture couldn’t be complete. (234)
As the afternoon wound down, one of the co-best men and the Pakistani equivalent of Napoleon Dynamite, sang a karaoke version of Journey’s “Open Arms” that only his closest friends could truly appreciate. With consuming passion and complete disregard for pitch or melody, he blared,
so, now, I come to you
with open arms
nothing to hide
believe what I say
so here I am
with open arms
hoping you’ll see
what your love
means to me
We couldn’t have asked for a better punch line.