The Community of Marriage

Weddings come in waves. At one time I went to my friends’ weddings. Now I go to the weddings of my friends’ kids, or my kids’ friends. This summer I’ve been to three, feeling very lucky to be invited. I am pretty sure that when young people imagine the most fabulous of weddings, they do not think of populating it with people of my age.

I had a really good time at all three weddings. They were happy and reverent occasions, with good food and drink. What’s not to enjoy? It’s meaningful to reflect on marriage, to contemplate the distance Popie and I have traveled together, and to take joy in another young pair showing the faith to embark on such a journey. When I went to my friends’ weddings, years back, I felt intense excitement, as of a crucial contest. Now I look on as though from a high mountain. I know all about the risks, the uncertainties, the thrills. But I am far from playing the game myself. I have become more a philosopher.

In my community, people hardly ever marry in church nowadays. They use wineries or parks or “event facilities.” My own church sanctuary, which once booked space months in advance, hardly ever has a wedding any more.

Furthermore, lots of weddings aren’t performed by pastors or priests; the couple get a friend or a relative to lead the service.

Furthermore, I think it is pretty unusual for the marrying couple to be anxious to get into bed that night. They have generally been doing that for a while.

All the same, my impression is that weddings have not really changed foundationally. They represent the same hope that they did when I was young–the hope of loving and ecstatic partnership, of home, children, permanence. The trappings have become more elaborate (and considerably more expensive), but they aim at the same kind of ritual celebration.

For me, what has changed is more substantial. Not being in the game, I approach weddings with a quiet mind. I enjoy the service, the food, and the happiness, but what I feast on are the conversations–with old friends, and occasionally with someone I meet. In my current stage of life weddings are not just about marriage, they are about community. We come together for the wedding and we affirm, not just the ecstatic dreams of the couple, but the gentle, sustaining community that surrounds them. We are the background. We are the binding threads. I am not invited to the day because I am so terribly important to the celebrating couple, but because it is fitting to have the wider community present. I see old friends, I establish who is related to whom, I have a stray encounter with someone I have never met and may never meet again but who is also significant to this community of which, however partially, I am a part.

It has become common in weddings I attend for the congregation to join in vow-making, stating their commitment to support the couple. In my day this was a novel and striking development. From my view now, it is merely a symbolic utterance of a bodily truth: we are here, we represent the warp and woof of your lives, and we know that what you the couple do in marrying is the sharp exclamation point jutting out of a common reality. We belong to each other.

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2 Responses to “The Community of Marriage”

  1. Jordan Johnson Says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post. Allison and I just had our 9 year anniversary. It seems to me that those friends and family attending the Wedding grow in importance as the marriage moves forward. The “background” as you called it is fundamental to allow the couple to “stand out” together. Our identities our relational (I was Jordaned by my parents). And a couples’ identity as a couple comes to the fore, yes by the couples’ relationship with each other, but also through those faces blurred in the background of our Wedding photos.

  2. David Graham Says:

    Your comments capture well my own way of looking at weddings. They really are about family and community. The couple isn’t going to live in isolation but rather as part of an extended network of people who form society, and who will both give and receive help from other members of their circle.

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