PREPARING FOR YOUR WEDDING … PREPARING FOR YOUR MARRIAGE
[For reasons of health, I will no longer be officiating at weddings. I of course stand by what I have written below; and I hope that anyone contemplating a wedding will find someone to work with by way of meaningful preparation as I have outlined it below.]
Isn’t this a gorgeous photograph? It was taken just after the wedding of Sarah and Tim, in September 2009, on Denman Island, as they rowed to another place on the island for the post-wedding photos. It perfectly illustrates something I liked to say at weddings, quoting an old Appalachian folk song:
Typically I have said that if both row, the boat goes forward; if only one rows, the boat will go in circles, and if neither rows, the boat will drift. However, when I saw Sarah and Tim in the boat, I realized that in using this image I had been thinking of the rowboats at camp when I was a teenager–boats which were designed to accommodate two rowers sitting side by side and facing in the same direction. But here only one is rowing—and yes, there are times in a marriage when only one can or will row, and times when it falls to the other partner to row. A fruitful metaphor!
For human beings (or, better, human becomings!), relationship is essential. We become who we are to become in relationship with others. In our historical time in the West, marked by the decline of institutional religion, as indeed by the decline of popular trust in all institutions, and by the rise of individualism (not a good word in my vocabulary—but individuality is), the intimate relationship in whatever form it takes has become for huge numbers, if not the majority, the dimension of their lives which carries the most meaning. For many, in fact, marriage or its equivalent provides the horizon or boundary of meaning which institutional religion used to provide.
We all know as well that marriage is challenging, a great school of love and growth in honesty and authenticity from which, once admitted to it, we never graduate–although some of us will drop out! This is true in any age; but in our own age, the forces of individualism and consumerism bear down heavily on the nuclear family, which is frequently unable to resist them; and so they contribute to the massive number of marriages which in our time end in divorce (always sad, sometimes necessary).
I believe, in fact, that in years to come, the nuclear family as it appeared in the 20th century will be seen as a kind of blip, and that we are on the edge, in our culture, of the rebirth of the extended family, in new forms (but don’t get me started, that’s another story!). All I’ll say here is that over the centuries, the extended family oversaw the marriages of the young until they were stable–sometimes, admittedly, in an oppressive way, but often in a helpful and encouraging way– whereas for many in our time, the nuclear family has not been strong enough on its own to bear the pressures put upon it by our culture. Even so, people keep entering into marriage because of the great gifts it can but is not guaranteed to offer: deep intimacy, ongoing sexual exchange, commitment and support. The word “love” in this context is really an umbrella term for all these realities. “Being in love” is then a way of two people saying to each other that they see a shared future for themselves in which these possibilities may be realized.
In the way I did marriage preparation, I tried to take all these dimensions into account. I developed an approach which enabled me to work with a sense of responsibility with couples preparing for their weddings, and seemed also to work well for the couples themselves. We would usually have four meetings or times together, structured as follows:
(1) Introductory: how they met, what they see in each other; views, images and experiences of marriage; hopes and dreams; how marriage works (or doesn’t work) in our culture
(2) Major themes: communication, families of origin, children, sexuality, finance (following the taking of a marriage prep course at which these topics are presented—see below)
(3) The wedding ceremony, first session: the traditional form and its meaning; personal ways in which you may wish to express your own commitments and hopes through the ceremony
(4) The wedding ceremony, second session: finalizing details of the service, and dealing with any additional concerns in preparation for the wedding
Between the first and second meetings, I asked couples to take a marriage preparation course (if one was available), together with other couples preparing for their weddings. It’s a win-win situation when people do this. If a couple learns something, great; if they realize they already know everything they need to know, they can feel great about themselves.
One course I would recommend is offered by the Church of St Francis in the Wood, in West Vancouver (stfrancisinthewood.ca/marriage.html). If you live elsewhere than Vancouver, see if you can find one in your own locality.
I also invited couples to contact me around the time of their first anniversary, for a marital check-in. If they were doing well, we all rejoiced in that. If difficulties had appeared, I referred them to a marriage counselor in whom I had confidence.
To any couple reading this page: all good things to you as you look forward to your life together.