Saturday, January 17, 2015

. . . And Sometimes Not


       As a certified Life-Cycle Celebrant® I enjoy creating and performing wedding ceremonies for couples from diverse backgrounds. I have personalized unique ceremonies for Christians, interfaith couples, atheists, Wiccans, "spiritual but not religious" couples, same-sex, and interracial couples. I enjoy meeting and getting to know all of my clients, and I feel that I'm helping to build bridges between different groups of people through my ceremonies.

       Recently I was given the opportunity to perform a double ceremony for two Sufi couples who live in a local Sufi community. They were married in a religious ceremony last November, but still needed a legal ceremony and license.

       I frequently perform small weddings in my home for couples who are eloping or for some reason are not having a big celebration. These ceremonies are not personalized, but they include a reading about the art of marriage and meaningful vows in which the bride and groom promise to trust and respect, honor, love, and cherish each other. 

       I was pleased that the Sufi wedding gave me the opportunity to use this poem by Sufi poet Rumi for the final blessing: 

May these vows and this marriage be blessed.
May it be sweet milk,

this marriage, like wine and halvah.
May this marriage offer fruit and shade
like the date palm.
May this marriage be full of laughter,
our every day a day in paradise.
May this marriage be a sign of compassion,
a seal of happiness here and hereafter.
May this marriage have a fair face and a good name,
an omen as welcome
as the moon in a clear blue sky.
I am out of words to describe
how spirit mingles in this marriage. 

       When I asked the brides to repeat their vows after me, the grooms surprised me by asking their wives to add "obey" to their promises. I thought about this afterward and wondered about the significance of this addition. One of the grooms and one of the brides had been married previously, and I had to wonder if these divorces were related to a lack of obedience in their relationships. Why would it be necessary to ask for obedience in a relationship of equal respect such as the vows I gave them asks for?

        The following week I received a call from another Sufi couple who had just received their license. They had been married in a religious ceremony last April and were just referred to me by one of the grooms from the double wedding. I met with this couple the day before they wished to be married. It concerned me that the divorced groom was 43 and the bride would turn 21 on her wedding day, but they were already married in spirit and I didn't feel it was my place to judge. However, I added more words about mutual respect to the vows I would give them, hoping to make it more difficult for the groom to add "obey" for his bride to repeat.

         When the couple arrived for their wedding the next day the bride, all smiles, gave me a box of chocolates and told me how happy she was to be getting married on her birthday. I had lit candles in my living room and created for them a keepsake ceremony script, tied with gold ribbons. I began with a prayer, and it felt like a sacred occasion.

     The bride repeated her vows first, and of her own accord, she added the word "obedience" to her promises. The groom added "I promise to protect you." The first two couples had ended their ceremony with hugs as Muslims do not kiss in public. However, this time the bride touched her forehead to the groom's hand and kissed it. He did not reciprocate.

       When the happy couple left my home with their witness (a groom from the first wedding) they told me there will probably be more Sufi weddings in the summer. After some consideration I realized that I cannot in good conscience perform any more weddings where the bride will vow obedience to her husband. I feel bad about this decision because my refusal will not help my goal of creating bridges of oneness wherever possible. But just as it is my ideal to build bridges between all people, I realize there must be equality and mutual respect between those creating this bridge - or it cannot stand.

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