There are moments, we say, when the Holy breaks in.
Moments in our earthly messiness when God’s majesty soars down to meet us.
Moments in our worldly brokenness when God’s perfect peace burrows up to find us.
Moments when the miraculous takes hold, and we are left breathless. Filled with awe for the beauty that surrounds us, for the peace that passes all understanding. Moments such as a baby’s birth or an illness cured.
The miraculous moment when a couple says “I do”.
These days, I find myself on the other side of that holy moment—initiator of the divine decision-making. Asking a couple to repeat after me as I say those sacred words: vows to love and comfort, honor and keep, through health and happiness to loss and loneliness. In richer days and poorer ones, having and holding even in the worst of times.
The worst of times. This is a promise of real, down-and-dirty, difficult love, not for the faint of heart. This is a pledge of tough love—love that commits to uncertainties and absurdities, to sacrifice and self-giving. I’m the closest witness to this intimate exchange. To two people looking deeply into one another’s eyes, holding hands, surrounded by their family and friends, promising to love toughly and fiercely for the rest of their days. The moment is intense.
And, I admit, a little bit crazy. Or at least that’s what I thought, previous to being on this side of a wedding. Who can commit to that kind of radical love? Who can take on a whole new family, with their own systems and dysfunctions and demands? Who can love so deeply that they commit to be present through cancer scares and infertility and the death of parents—even the death of each other? Through bills and midnight feedings and demanding mother-in-laws. Sure, companionship comes with its rewards, but it’s not easy. This is tough-love, for tough-skinned people.
Of course, after being on the other side of the couple, holding on to their hands while they stare into one another’s eyes, my view has changed. I see the tears in their eyes, feel the tender touch between them as they connect on all levels. How could I not change?
After being party to all this, I’ve concluded:
They are a lot crazy.
But I also think life is a lot crazy—filled with abundant absurdities that take us by surprise, jerk us out of our comfort zones, and call on us to take a risk for relationships. Craziness that calls us to be vulnerable, adventurous, and most of all willing to give up control of our hearts. If I’ve learned anything in ministry, it’s that love and relationship are what matter. And we can’t truly love until we let go, open ourselves up to others, and take a leap of faith. Love means letting go of ourselves to find ourselves, and finding God in the process. Love means caring compassionately for the other and putting our ego and fears aside. Love means letting someone in to love us unconditionally, in spite of our walls and borders and insecurities. Love means not only giving ourselves, but letting ourselves admit that we are worthy to be loved and cared for. Crazy? Probably. Gospel? Definitely.
Goodbye, Sanity! Hello, Holiness!
So we do this crazy ritual known as a wedding as a worship service, with ministers. We sing the Lord’s prayer, take communion, hear scripture, because we know that we can’t and don’t and never will be capable of doing this alone. We believe marriage is a covenant not just between two people, but with the couple, the community, and God. And only through the grace of everyone involved can a couple make such a crazy, holy commitment. Can participate in that Holy moment of saying “I do”.
The kin-dom of God breaks in, affirming the absurdity of radical, endless love.
But in that miraculous moment, something even more miraculous happens—the Holy stays around on earth. Or at least, in the Knights of Columbus reception hall. This is what happened at my cousin’s wedding.
Turns out, the divine was as much a part of the dancing at the reception as the commitment at the altar. Yes, the service was Holy, but so was the Hokey Pokey—friends and family gathered together for joyful, unbounded celebration. So was the sacred meal—a buffet line of cheese cubes and deviled eggs as much a sacrament as wine and bread. We gathered to celebrate love and commitment, joy and union, with our whole bodies.
And if a five year old dancing the YMCA with her 85 year old great-grandfather isn’t Holy, I don’t know what is.
I realized, on that dance floor, listening to the obnoxious DJ, we get it wrong. We say the holy breaks in, in rare and precious moments, and we have to watch for it. But if we keep our eyes open, we know that the holy is always already here. Is around us and before us, over and above us, in our dancing shoes and plates of wedding cake.
When we spend too much energy focusing on particular moments, holding them above the rest, the daily becomes a letdown rather than an opportunity for presence and praise. And it’s why, sadly, too many couples focus on the moment of the wedding, and lose sight of the marriage.
For life together, life lived in relationship, is holy. The fights, the grief, the dishes, the dances. The carpools and movie-watching, the road trips and family dinners. The laundry and cooking and crying and celebrating are all lived in divine splendor.
My great hope, as I continue to marry couples, is that the wonder present in the I-Do moment stays with them day after day. My hope is that the spirit of the wedding sustains the marriage. That wonder fills their days and opens their eyes.
This is my hope for all of us, who, regardless of our status, live in relationship. Holy, absurd, radically loving relationship.
I hope we all live with our eyes wide open to the Holy. That we awake to the sunshine of grace each and every morning. That the sounds of the sacred meet us as we rise. That the divine dance of the daily inhabits our lives together, and that we always, always wonderfully live in awe and wonder.
For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, for better, for worse.
Most of all, I hope we dance our holy hearts out every chance we get.