Our daughter's best friend got married over Labor Day weekend. Our families met in 1986, when our oldest girls were three years old. It was a beautiful wedding in beautiful Monterey, where the newlyweds live. The wedding theme was oceanic and tropical: the bridesmaids in slim strapless aqua dresses, carrying vivid orange bouquets, and the bride's aqua shoes exactly matching the dresses. Orange starfish decorated the wedding cake, on top of which a couple of seals nestled sweetly. Times have changed enough so that no one looked twice at the bride's tattooed shoulders rising above her formal wedding gown. The weather was balmy; the food delectable; the dancing lively; the company topnotch.
All the same, I felt a bit reserved at the start of this wedding. I wasn't sure how it was going to go, exactly. To begin at the beginning, the engaged couple had asked my husband, who has been a sort of substitute dad to the bride, to perform the wedding ceremony. As a college professor, he does not have the power to marry people, but they had heard it was possible to get specially certified to officiate over weddings. A little online research revealed that my husband could be deputized in Santa Barbara County, which permitted him to perform one wedding, specifically theirs and on that date. I knew that he would do a marvelous job: not only is he a born actor, he is quite comfortable in his own skin speaking in front of large groups. The thing I wasn't sure about was that the bride and groom had asked him to choose his wording so that he did not mention God. No God talk. At all. They were not religious, and wanted a wedding that reflected their values, not some canned church routine.
A wedding without God? I didn't like the sound of that. Of course, if you believe in God, you know in your heart that God is at the wedding whether you mention God or not: God's presence is not dependent upon your acknowledging it. But specifically making a point of excluding God seemed wrong to me. I secretly judged that as both foolish and arrogant.
But at the wedding, I was the foolish and arrogant one.
It seems I do not practice the tolerance and acceptance I preach. I was bothered that they hadn't chosen words that I deemed appropriately life-giving. As it turned out, the wedding ceremony was moving beyond words. The act of two young adults promising to intertwine their lives together for the rest of their days is a sacred one. At the moment of their union, they stand on holy ground. It's just that sometimes we call the same values different names.
The bride and groom are both people of whom we can be proud. They honor their parents, respect others, support their friends, rescue cats, stick up for the underdog, take care of the planet, and love each other like crazy: all things that religious people are supposed to do. They spoke their vows seriously, which were poetic and downright spiritual in giving voice to the marrying of their souls. As I listened to their promises, and to the words of ceremony that they and my husband had chosen together to validate their marriage, words of love and light and selflessness and grace, I was humbled. It occurred to me that sometimes young people have to find their way to what really matters by a road that seems to us to have no signposts pointing to God. We may think we have to force their steps toward the God that we perceive. But the older I get, the more I believe that God has precise and perfect ideas about each one of us, and that God at work in the lives of others may not always look like God to us.
People who believe in God do not hold a patent on what is right and good and true. We may think we do, but in doing so, we imitate the Pharisees. We set ourselves above our fellow humans. Most of all, we forget that we are not in charge of the universe. Only God is.
And our newlyweds are in good hands.