A few weeks ago, I had the honor of being present at the wedding of two very good friends. The ceremony, though not held in some prescribed hallowed hall with preordained sanctity, was one of the most beautiful spiritual moments I have seen in quite a while.
The setting was a grassy hillock in Southern Illinois, nestled between a not-too-distant train track and a sleepy blacktop road. A weathered wooden fence served as the altar for this ancient ritual, with strips of homely cloth hung from the boughs of two trees to frame the sanctification. In the background, an old car from the 1940's sat dormant, trapped in prairie grass and dry Midwestern soil. As the warm June sun beat down on the expectant congregation, the pastoral image could not have been more serene.
The ceremony was simple. Thoughtfully chosen music floated on the breeze as the bride walked purposefully, yet contemplatively toward her betrothed. A close friend, serving as minister for the occasion, positioned the couple and began his narration of their love. The expression was a poetic integration of biblical anecdote, personal exposition, and literary expression. The linen streamers fluttered in the breeze, landing on the presider's shoulders in a makeshift stole that aptly bestowed his revered position in the wedding. He spoke of commitment, and of the strength of love. Quoting classic text, he postulated,
"Consider the Velveteen Rabbit..."
Then he spoke of the rigors of love on one's body. The little rabbit fearfully asks the horse if love will hurt, and the old toy responds truthfully that it will, at times, but those moments are part of a greater narrative of love, compassion, and support that are far greater than any pain. The passage was poignant and perfect in capitulating the commencement taking place before us. Although the text was not traditionally religious, the care in which these words were chosen created a sacred quality, bestowing hallowed status on the familiar children's tale.
That afternoon allowed a select group of people a chance to peek into the most intimate moments of two lives as they entwined. There was nothing incredibly special about the actions that took place in that field. What made the event extraordinary was the significance that we as a society placed on the words, events, and interactions. When we elevate the public commitment of two lives, we choose to actively participate in the success of that commitment, and that is what we bore witness to on that sultry June afternoon - a collective commitment to the solidarity of humanity. When my friend, who normally wears one of the most gruff and coarse facades a man can exude, choked back tears and stumbled for words, he did not only connect with his bride. It was that moment where he also humbly exposed himself to everyone in attendance and expressed his trust in them to support the commitment he avowed that day. Implicitly, we all affirmed that connection with our presence.
For some, ceremony may take on an extremely rigid definition. The location, the participants, and the conventions may have very specific rules and formulas. But across the world, ceremony has only a few universal qualifiers. As long as a collected group agrees upon the sanctified status of the event, the ceremony is valid, as it only needs to be meaningful for those people. It is events such as this wedding that allow me to stop and realize that the creation of sacred time and space is more fluid than what society often implies.
The joy that was shared among friends and family that afternoon was magical, in an infectious and inexplicable way. Love, both romantic and brotherly, danced about the event, riding the laughter and exuberance like dandelion seeds in the wind. As the congregation dwindled and the heat broke, the joy settled into warm contentment that kept the stresses and realities of the world at bay. The newly enjoined couple was still wrapped in each other, oblivious to the tireless march of time still trudging onward. For a few more hours, time would remain still for them as the euphoria of their commitment wrapped them in sacred time, impregnable by the spoiling effects of life. That site, as we drove away from the grassy hillside ceremony, was truly beautiful.
Thank you to Joshua Ford Photography for the beautiful images from this event. Check out his other work - you will be amazed at what he can convey through film.