My friends, we gather together at a beautiful lake on this sunny Fourth of July to celebrate an ancient, solemn and joyful ritual. This is, for Harold and Wanda, a rite of passage by which they signal their entry into a new life.
Marriage, like war and weather, has always provoked commentary, high-minded and otherwise. The tobacco farmer and poet Wendell Berry tells us that it lies well beyond mere careless happiness, "…on the other side of--but never out of reach of--the valley of delight."
An anonymous poet says forming a union of love, like art, is to bring harmony and order out of chaos. Another unknown says love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence. Joseph Barth pronounces the institution as our last, best chance to grow up. And Victor Hugo says, "The supreme happiness of life is to be loved for yourself. Or, more correctly, in spite of yourself."
Being married on the Fourth of July is an affirmation of the role independence plays in a loving relationship. It is like a dance, in which the partners hold each other but lightly, each moving in his and her own fashion to the music that fills them both.
For Harold and Wanda, music and prose, poetry and painting are sacraments; a deep love of art fills their souls. And like art marriage entails moving forward, persistently, toward an ideal held in the mind. Thus the best preparation for the union is to fully understand the idea which is sturdy enough to survive one's ultimate inability to achieve it fully.
Perfect love is a god, Plato proposed, divine, everlasting and as unattainable by human beings as the stars. In that form love has existed in the universe since the beginning of time and will endure forever.
There exists also the individual brand of love, which strikes us here on earth like a glint off the sun, making us suffer, pine, rejoice…and, sometimes, marry. To make a pledge of perpetual loyalty--of the kind that soon will be made here by Harold and Wanda--is to lend and commit oneself to the long human quest for moral value.
Vows are indeed a sacred affirmation of moral value, and are also spells, invocations--not so much to heaven as to a still-unrealized being in oneself who may grow to maturity to fulfill the promise.
Wedding rites and the associations we have with them, like the other rites of passage through history, prove that the human family is one, even if its members are as varied as birds in their mating dances and songs.
Each individual must find his or her own meaning in this ceremony with its architecture of enduring time and moral responsibility.
As we look about us, we are reminded that in sacred space every detail of ritual flows from the concept of united heaven and earth, where earth and sky meet. It is where time stands still, and history dissolves into eternity.
Love prays. It makes covenants with eternal power. The union that is thus informed adds a new value to every atom in nature, for it transmutes every thread throughout the whole web of relation into a golden ray and bathes the soul in a new and sweeter element.
Love is not the purview of cowards; it is, rather, the perogative of the brave. It is the nature and end of marriage that Harold and Wanda do in symbolic fact represent the human race to each other. All that is in the world is beautifully wrought into the texture of this man, this woman.
The world rolls; the circumstances vary every hour. In time flaming regard is sobered…losing in violence what it gains in extent, it becomes a thorough and good understanding. At last the lovers discover that all which at first drew them together--those once intriguing features, that magical play of charms--had a prospective end, like the scaffolding with which the house was built, and the purification of the intellect and the heart, from year to year, is the real marriage.
Thus we are put in training for a love that knows no sex, no person, no partiality, but which seeks virtue and wisdom everywhere so that virtue and wisdom may be enhanced and perpetuated.
Emerson tells us that Love is the dawn of civility and grace; the rememberance of these visions of love outlasts all other rememberances, and is a wreath of flowers on the oldest brows. We do not ever forget the visitations of the power of love to our hearts and mind, which created all things new, which is the dawn in us of music, poetry and art.
Love makes the face of nature radiant with purple light, the morning and the night varied enchantments, and in love the single tone of a voice makes our heart beat…and all these forms are placed in the amber of memory…for the figures, the motions, the words of the beloved are not like other images written in water, but, as Plutarch said, "enameled in fire."
In love we may put aside a fear of death; in our beloved's eyes we live forever. In love we may fear nothing. Love is forever.
As in Psalms, "sorrow endures for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."
And we need never fear that we can lose anything by the progress of the soul. The soul may be trusted to the end. That which is so beautiful and attractive as these relations must be succeeded and supplanted only by what is more beautiful and so on, forever.
"Harold, do you stand alone and free to join this woman in marriage, to love, honor and nurture her for all the days of you life?"
"Wanda, do you stand alone and free to join this man in marriage, to love honor and nutrure him for all the days of your life?"
"May I have the rings please? Thank you. In Native American tradition a ring is called the hoop of life which is eternal. It is symbolic of the sun, the moon, the earth, the cycle of the seasons. It bespeaks the interconnectedness of all living and non-living things."
The judge hands the ring to Harold, who places it on Wanda's finger.
"Do you, Harold, pledge with this ring your loyalty to this woman for all the days of your life?"
The judge hands the ring to Wanda, who places it on Harold's finger.
"Do you, Wanda, pledge with this ring your loyalty to this man for all the days of your life?"
"By the power vested in me by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I hereby pronounce you husband and wife."