Wedding readings

L and my wedding is under three weeks away and we still haven’t finalised the wedding readings. So I thought I’d spend a little time here going over some of the possibilities and let’s see if we get a bit more clarity. I’ll try not to get side-tracked into talking about our first antenatal class which we attended last night (which was very helpful and quite different from what I was expecting).

We’ve very lucky to have B who is a poet and a priest marrying us. He gave us a collection of wedding readings to look over and L was delighted to see that three of them were ones that she already liked. So, without any further ado, we have …

1. Marriage is a Promise of Love by Edmund O’ Neill.

Marriage is a commitment to life, the best that two people can find and bring out in each other. It offers opportunities for sharing and growth that no other relationship can equal. It is a physical and an emotional joining that is promised for a lifetime.

Within the circle of its love, marriage encompasses all of life’s most important relationships. A wife and a husband are each other’s best friend, confidant, lover, teacher, listener, and critic.

Marriage deepens and enriches every facet of life. It has the power to enhance happiness, make memories fresher and commitment stronger.

Marriage understands and forgives the mistakes life is unable to avoid. It encourages and nurtures new life, new experiences, and new ways of expressing love through the various stages of our lives.

When two people pledge their love and care for each other in marriage, they create a spirit unique unto themselves which binds them closer than words. Marriage is a promise, a potential made in the hearts of two people who love each other, which takes a lifetime to fulfil.

I really like the sentiments here but there’s a slight problem. No-one seems to know who this Edmund O’ Neill is. Spend 30 minutes hunting around on Google and Wikipedia and you probably won’t get any further than that he was born in 1929. Does he exist? Is this a nomme du plume? I don’t have the time to find out. And I was also interested to see that there are a couple of slightly different versions of this passage.

2. On Marriage by
Kahlil Gibran

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

I read this at my oldest sister’s wedding and I also really like it. But perhaps the more I read it, the more I wonder about it. Kahlil Gibran was a real person (a Lebanese American poet and writer) so that’s not it. Perhaps I’m a bit worried by the dialectical nature of this poem. Do this but don’t do that.

There’s a lovely flow about this poem with the “winds of heaven” dancing between the two lovers. And I always liked the idea of spaces in their togetherness. Hmm. I’m not sure.

3. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but Really loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get all loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.
“The Boy’s Uncle made me real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Rea you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

Some people leave out the last bit about the boy’s uncle, which could detract from the reading. But I think it adds something to it. It brings it home that love is something that happens over time and it changes you, it makes you real. And you get a bit used up in the loving process.

4. A Marriage by Michael Blumenthal

You are holding up a ceiling
with both arms. It is very heavy,
but you must hold it up, or else
it will fall down on you. Your arms
are tired, terribly tired,
and, as the day goes on, it feels
as if either your arms or the ceiling
will soon collapse.

But then,
unexpectedly,
something wonderful happens:
Someone,
a man or a woman,
walks into the room
and holds their arms up
to the ceiling beside you.

So you finally get
to take down your arms.
You feel the relief of respite,
the blood flowing back
to your fingers and arms.
And when your partner’s arms tire,
you hold up your own
to relieve him again.

And it can go on like this
for many years
without the house falling.

This is a sweet poem. It’s not about the rush of oxytocin you feel when you’re in love (our antenatal group facilitator was big on the joys of oxytocin and how this relates to birth) but it’s about love as support, friendship, empathy. Which is just as important. (Oh, and Michael Blumenthal does exist – he’s a poet and a professor.)

5. Colossians 3: 12-16

Put on, then, garments that suit God’s chosen and beloved people: compassion, kindness, humility,
gentleness, patience. Be tolerant with one another, and forgiving, if any of you has cause for complaint: you must forgive as the Lord forgave you. Finally,
to bind everything together and complete the whole, there must be love. Let Christ’s peace be arbiter in
your decisions, the peace to which you were called as members of a single body. Always be thankful.

Let the gospel of Christ dwell among you in all its richness; teach and instruct one another with all the
wisdom it gives you. With psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, sing from the heart in gratitude to God.

As far as Biblical readings go, it’s either this one or the excerpt from Corinthians that we all know pretty well (love is not boastful and so on). And we’re not having that one (not that we’re boastful but I think we’ve just heard it one too many times). I like the part about “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience”. What I’m less sure of is the idea that these are clothes that you need to put on almost as if you’re playing a role. Is this just quibbling on my part? And I also don’t think that “Christ’s peace” is going to be the arbiter in our decisions.

So perhaps we should just leave this one out? I was also interested to read on and see what happens after this excerpt: “18. Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” Next Paul will be telling women to cover their hair in public. But of course this was 2000 years ago and so we shouldn’t be too harsh on him.

One more before we go.

6. LOVE
by Roy Croft

I love you,
Not only for what you are,
But for what I am
When I am with you.

I love you,
Not only for what
You have made of yourself,
But for what
You are making of me.

I love you
For the part of me
That you bring out;
I love you
For putting your hand
Into my heaped-up heart
And passing over
All the foolish, weak things
That you can’t help
Dimly seeing there,
And for drawing out
Into the light
All the beautiful belongings
That no one else had looked
Quite far enough to find.

I love you because you
Are helping me to make
Of the lumber of my life
Not a tavern
But a temple;
Out of the works
Of my every day
Not a reproach
But a song.

I love you
Because you have done
More than any creed
Could have done
To make me good,
And more than any fate
To make me happy.

You have done it
Without a touch,
Without a word,
Without a sign.
You have done it
By being yourself.

It is a lovely poem and the ideas in those first three or four stanzas are what love is about for us. Not just about what we see in the other person but who we are when we’re together. But then he gets a little ponderous and a bit “not this but that” again. And I want to say that of course the poet’s lover has done this (made him better than he is) with words and touches and signs. But I’m quibbling again.

So those are six of the contenders at this stage. What wedding readings do you really like?

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28 Responses to Wedding readings

  1. Angeliki says:

    I really like the second by Kahlil Gibran but I can see what you mean that the dialectical nature of this can be a bit off putting. Although, I personally don’t mind it very much.

    The second best choice is The Velveteen Rabbit. Very very sweet and to the point.

    • Pete says:

      Thanks Angeliki. I do like the Velveteen Rabbit so perhaps we’ll go with that after all. But there are still two weeks to go so we’ll see!

  2. I like # 6. But what matters most is what speaks to you.

  3. litlove says:

    The ones I like best are the Blumenthal and the Colossians (because I like a bit of traditional). But as Lilian so rightly says, it’s what really speaks to you that matters. I prefer the readings that aren’t too idealistic. Marriage is about team work, and getting over extreme irritation with yourself and your partner, and learning from the situation, even when it’s thoroughly ticking you off. They don’t do many wedding readings like that! 🙂

    • Pete says:

      Yes, I didn’t find too many of those on all the wedding sites! We’ve decided on the Colossians one (in part out of respect to the church and partly because we like the sentiments). But we’re still deciding on the other two. You were right that blogging helps to think things through so thanks. 🙂

  4. Amanda says:

    I went to a wedding where the groom read this which I found quite moving

    EXCERPT FROM 100 LOVE SONNETS
    ~ By Pablo Neruda

    I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz, or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off. I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

    I love you as the plant that never blooms but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers; thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance, risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

    I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride; so I love you because I know no other way

    than this: Where “I” does not exist, nor “You”, so close that your hand on my chest is my hand, so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

  5. Pete says:

    Thanks Amanda. I can just hear the wedding guests sighing in appreciation of that sonnet! I’ve always liked his “Twenty Poems of Love” but some are too melancholic for a wedding. (“Tonight I can write the saddest lines”). This is a lovely one – thanks for including it.

  6. Grad says:

    Pete, they are all lovely, as will your wedding. I don’t think I know any wedding quotes. But there is a small quote about love and friendship and is very dear. There’s not enough of it for a speech perhaps, but certainly enough for thought. “If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together.. there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart.. I’ll always be with you.”– Winnie the Pooh

  7. My vote goes to either the Kahlil Gibran (which has never before struck me as dialectical or prescriptive) or Croft on love, because I find the others too prosaic for a wedding, which is after all a moment of hope, faith and love for everyone (including those invited to be present). For the same reason I love the Neruda as the outside choice! But I’m sure that whatever you choose it will be a lovely ceremony, if only for the care and reflection you’re giving to its wording.

    • Pete says:

      Thanks Karen. It’s great to be reminded that weddings are about faith, hope and love since in the build-up to the big day it’s more about anxiety! And I think I was a little harsh on the Kahlil Gibran reading. Perhaps I’m just looking for something new.

  8. natalian says:

    I have really had to cast my mind back to what reading I had at my wedding – I think it was 1 Corinthians 13 V 4-7 -“Love is patient, Love is kind….” sure you know the one! This is an exciting time, enjoy the moment! All those readings are really beautiful, and I am sure you and L will find the perfect one for your special day!

  9. Emily Barton says:

    Wow! Your wedding is that close already? Time has flown. I love both the Blumenthal and the Croft. At my own wedding, I chose The Cowboy Junkies’s “Anniversary Song.” Bob chose two (we surprised each other. Had them read without telling each other what we’d chosen). One was from Plato, all about finding your other half. The other was from Mark Twain’s “The Diary of Adam and Eve,” which is a very funny story that ends with a beautiful passage about Adam’s feelings for Eve.

    • Pete says:

      Thanks Emily! Great song (which I’ve just listened to on YouTube) and I love it that you and Bob surprised each other with readings like that. I’ll have to look for them both (have read part of Plato’s Symposium which I enjoyed).

  10. doctordi says:

    Wow, such exciting times at Couchtrip HQ – the countdown is well and truly on!! As your selection demonstrates, wedding readings are so tricky – they’re an important part of the ceremony, and yet it’s rare to find something that really speaks to you. I was asked by one of my oldest friends to write one for her wedding; it was a challenging but rewarding task – I can show it to you as long as you know I am not being horrifyingly presumptuous, I just think you might be interested. How did you decide??

    • Pete says:

      Di – I would love to see it so please email it to me! We finally decided on three readings – one Biblical, one on Love and another on Marriage (the Velveteen Rabbit and the Blumenthal). The advantage of making the groom’s speech is that I can bring in a range of other influences as well. But such a tricky thing – speech can’t be too long and must be personal and heartfelt. But I would love to read what you wrote – partly because I really like your writing and because at this stage I could do with some help with the groom’s speech. Actually I quite like the idea of the Best Man (or whoever) reading out an extract from one of my blogging friends across the world. So if you’re cool with that. 🙂

  11. doctordi says:

    Further to that experience, might B pen a poem for the occasion…?

    • Pete says:

      Funny you should mention that because the bride’s dad is penning a poem for the occasion! Hmm – I’m sure it will be lovely. I’ll just do a couple of drafts of my speech first. Pity I don’t have more time 😉

  12. David says:

    Hmmm. Of all of them, I’d vote for the last one. The Velveteen Rabbit irks me with its suggestion that “difficult” people can’t be loved very often or very well. If I ever thought that being sharp-edged or fragile or needing extra care would prevent me from being truly loved, I’d have given up a long time ago. But that’s just me. 🙂

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