I mentioned in my previous post that part of our vacation included going to rural Massachusetts for my sister-in-law’s wedding, which I had the pleasure and honor of officiating. Below is the wedding sermon I wrote for that service. I left the first part out, which was more about the two of them and how they met.
Every part of this wedding: this ceremony, all of the decorations, your stunning dress and your very relationship has been formed by your community, which is why it is especially meaningful that in this particular wedding ceremony, all of us gathered here also made vows to you today.
You two will exchange vows too, of course. But all of us around you promised to, “do everything in our power to uphold and care for you in your marriage.”
You will come to see throughout your many years together, that as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to raise a strong and healthy marriage. And vice-versa.
Strong and healthy marriages creates strong and healthy villages.
Or said another way, communities form marriages and marriages bless communities.
As simple as this all sounds, it’s actually quite contradictory to most of what we hear and learn about love in our society.
In most of society, through our books, movies, music, the kinds of ideas that circulate around us; Love, especially romantic love is purely centered around the self and being adored by somebody else.
All throughout my own life, when I imagined being in a romantic relationship, it was all about me: about me getting my needs met, about me being pursued, about me being the sole object of somebody’s undying affections.
You can imagine the reality check I experienced when I got into an actual committed relationship and realized I was all turned around—that I would not be the object of somebody’s love but that he would be the object of mine.
Meaning, love, all forms of love—familial love, love amongst friends, love for our neighbors, romantic love…is at its purest form, other-centered rather than self-centered.
Our partner’s only job is to be the object of our love.
Our partner’s only job is for us to be able to practice this highest human calling upon them, to love them. When we do this, the relationship becomes so much more fulfilling and joyful than we could have ever imagined for ourselves.
What I’m saying runs counter to everything we have been taught.
What we have been taught is that we must love somebody because they are lovable.
Because they do things to make us happy.
Because they solve our problems.
Because they make us feel better about ourselves.
Because they give us feelings of ecstasy.
Because…they are worthy of our love.
And certainly, these kinds of emotions are essential for the beginning stages of forming a bond.
But these kinds of emotions are also fleeting and do not sustain a relationship.
The kinds of emotions and practices that actually sustain, nurture and strengthen marriages are rooted in other-centered love.
Let me be clear here that by other-centered love, I want to distinguish that from an extreme self-sacrificial, self-denying kind of love.
As a feminist, I recognize that women have for too many generations sacrificed their own well-being for the sake of others. Sometimes by choice, sometimes not by choice.
The kind of love I’m describing here is a love that empowers us and empowers others. It is an exercise of our own power and agency.
It is accepting others as they are while at the same time accepting ourselves as we are. It is helping others to be who they are meant to be while at the same time helping ourselves to be who we are meant to be.
It is to help and encourage the growth of others as unique individuals instead of fitting them into molds of our own making.
It is to simply enjoy them as they are rather than instruct or change them.
Pure love is to understand others on their own terms and see the world through their lens instead of constantly seeing the world through our own lens alone.
I want to invite all of us to think about a person in our lives. They could be related to us in any way: a spouse, friend, family member, coworker. Think for a moment how the relationship would be different if we focused on just loving them and enjoying them as they are rather than for what they can give to us?
(Moment of silence.)
This shift in thinking radically changes the nature of the relationship.
There are only seven sacraments in the Catholic Church, only seven ways they believe God’s presence is consistently, without fail, made real in the world.
One of the seven is marriage.
The reason why one of them is marriage is because when it is practiced well, the love formed and practiced among two people end up spreading to everybody around them and healing this world that is in such desperate need of that love. It has an intense ripple effect to everyone who surrounds those people.
Strong marriages heal the world.
In the second reading, Amity read the Dalai Lama’s words, “a loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.” What profound and true words those are. I would also add, a loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for a happy world.
I don’t need to tell you guys that strong marriages heal the world.
While most young couples spend their evenings resting at home or going out, you two spent many weeknights, after already long days at work, getting trained to become advocates for children in our foster care system throughout this past year.
You two have been present at every single milestone in our lives, including our son’s life and are more than ready to lend a hand whenever we need it.
You two exude this other-centered love that I am preaching about that it made me wonder if this sermon was worth giving to the two of you because it felt like I was preaching to the choir.
But then I realized that the thing about this kind of loving is it is so complex and challenging that it’s a never-ending practice.
This is why philosophers like Eric Fromm have described loving as an art because it is a craft that we never truly master but only get better at with practice, failure, and learning on repeat over and over again.
To be quite frank with you, because it is so challenging and goes against our natural impulses, most people don’t know how to do it very well.
It only takes a minute for us to think of examples of the suffering in our world due to our failure to love another well, from national wars to interpersonal betrayals.
Marriage is one of the best places for us to strengthen and expand our capacities for this other-centered kind of love precisely because it is also the relationship where we have the highest set of expectations for what our partners need to give to us.
I can think of few things that feel like a greater death to the ego than to ask our partners for forgiveness or to admit that we are wrong or to extend forgiveness to our partners without saying the words, “I told you so” or “How are you going to make this up to me?”
We often find it easier to love our family, friends and even strangers better than our own spouses because we take our partners for granted, we perceive our spouses as an extension of ourselves or a means for us to feel better about ourselves.
Rather than treating them like the most precious gift in our lives, rather than treating them as a person to whom we have the opportunity to practice this magnificent ability to love every moment of our lives together.
When we do this though, it won’t surprise you that the relationship becomes so. much. more. fun. and fulfilling.
a gift to everybody around us as it bears witness to a kind of love that saves us, heals us and makes us happier people.
We have no other purpose in this world than to love one another. It is the source of our life and our joy. It is a limitless capacity we all have that can never be perfected or complete. We can always love more and better no matter how old or enlightened we become.
We humans have many astounding abilities: to create, imagine, build, invent…but our creations are cold and meaningless when they are not rooted in love.
One of my best friends is a teacher for inner-city low income youth who has this impressive ability to turn classrooms around. When one of her colleagues, who has been doing her job for double the amount of time that my friend has, asked her what her strategy is, my friend responded, “I truly love each one of my students and that’s the primary missing ingredient of our current school system; Not money or institutional sophistication. The missing ingredient is love for the kids.”
In a few moments, you will recite your vows to one another; Vows to go through the highest highs and the lowest lows.
On those low days, you may be tempted to quit.
Those lowest times are invitations for you to deepen your commitment to your high calling to love one another even more.
On this day, as you embark on this wild and sacred journey together,
All of us gathered here give you all of our blessing,
knowing that you will also bless us a hundredfold in return just by loving one another.
May it be so, Amen.