Isn’t it funny that we spend months – and thousands and thousands of dollars – on the part of the wedding that is actually less important? Don’t get me wrong – the reception is awesome, and it really does matter (in my opinion) that you throw down a good time (read: FOOD) for the people that took the time and money to come celebrate with you.
But the part that actually matters, in the transformational sense, is the ceremony, which I think we usually forget as we are caught up in selecting first dance music, flowers, and invitation fonts. Luckily, I married James, who takes all things pomp and circumstance very seriously, so we sat down one afternoon early on in our wedding planning and planned out the whole ceremony.
For us, planning the vows was pretty simple: we opened the prayer books and marked the pages with the wedding ceremonies. Some would call this cliché or uncreative, but I don’t actually feel that wedding vows are the best place to exercise creativity. The reception would be a party, but the ceremony is about entering into a sacred covenant. These words aren’t like other words. Other words tell how you feel, but these words change who you are. They speak into being something that was not there before: a marriage. James and I didn’t want to pick something that made sense now, on the day we wrote them, but rather something that has united couples before God for hundreds of years. By exchanging vows that have established a sacred bond throughout centuries, we, in some small sense, have them backing us up.
Plus, those are the vows that I butchered when Barbie married Ken when I was 8, so they really trigger that marriage thing in my mind.
Beyond the vows, James and I wanted the ceremony to be meaty. You know those weddings where you are in and out of the ceremony in under 20 minutes? I always feel jipped in those. (Unless they are outside in the scorching sun, and then THANK YOU.) We wanted the ceremony to have depth and meaning, not just to us who were participating, but to all who had joined us. We had prayers from our fathers and my grandfather, a blessing involving our whole family, a special music number (see below), the best homily I have ever heard, and some really amazing music, thanks to our very talented friends. And yes, the whole wedding party sat down for the ceremony, because I love them.
Despite the fact that we had already had that special first look, the moment when I walked down the aisle with my father was as I had always imagined it. It was as I had imagined growing up, when I looked at the pictures of my mother walking down the same aisle in the same church.
But it was also so much better than I could have ever imagine, as I could never have imagined James waiting at the end.
Remember the students I would brag about when I taught in KY? Chances are, if you rode in my car anytime that year, you were forced to listen to one of their concert recordings until you praised them as I saw fit. When I insisted that I wanted them to sing at the wedding, I know there were scoffers. But, when these students opened their mouths and sang ee cummings’ poem “i carry your heart with me,” there were tears. My own in fact, and I tried to applaud, but no one joined in, not realizing that even at a wedding you can applaud amazing singers. This is where I would give you a link to hear the song, but I am technologically deficient, so I will have to get back to you on that. Trust me, it was perfect.
And after bustling up that dress (11 points, mind you) and exchanging the veil my granny made for a little birdcage one, it was off to the party!
Unsolicited Wedding Advice #who knows now:
- Plan your ceremony as carefully as you plan your reception. Because it matters, it really does, and the day should feel weighty because IT IS. I believe that marriage is not to be entered into lightly, despite what our culture says, and it is pretty hard to enter lightly into something that is full of old school language like “With this ring, I thee wed, with my body, I thee worship, with all my worldy goods, I thee endow.”
- Have something special and personal in the ceremony. Yes, I am all about the old school vows, but through the song, through messages in our programs, and through so many other little ways, it was still something intimate and personal.
- Get a dress with pockets so that when you cry the entire ceremony, you have tissues.
(Photos, as always, by Whitney Neal Photography.)