On making people married

Last weekend I stood with Lisa and Jacob, two friends who are also sort of like my kids, and did something I’ve done about a dozen times: I spoke weighty words about marriage and, ultimately, affirmed their vows and declared them husband and wife, once and for all time.

Each time I perform a wedding, I am sobered by the gravity of what I will speak into being. My role in a wedding and the resulting marriage is relatively small, of course, but like many small things, I consider what I do sacred. What is happening is not about me at all, but I get to participate in the renewal and replanting of something eternal — to be a midwife of sorts as a new life emerges and to welcome that new life to the world that was made for it. If I am any use, it is in giving voice to transcendence and joining not only two lives, but also heaven and earth. The joy and meaning of that experience is deeply rooted in the life we have shared with these women and men and the life we share with them in their married years. And, of course, the older I get, the more aware I become that the fruit of these marriages will outlast me.

I’ve never really found words that describe how I feel about my (and, as a community our) role in all of that, but recently in Wendell Berry’s collection of poems The Country of Marriage, I found some that come close.

Planting Trees

In the mating of trees,
the pollen grain entering the invisible
the domed room of the winds, survives
the ghost of the old forest
that was here when we came. The ground
invites it, and it will not be gone.
I become the familiar of that ghost
and its ally, carrying in a bucket
twenty trees smaller than weeds,
and I plant them along the way
of the departure of the of ancient host.
I return to the ground its original music.
It will rise out of the horizon
of the grass, and over the heads
of the weeds, and it will rise over
the horizon of men’s heads. As I age
in the world it will rise and spread,
and be for this place horizon
and orison, the voice of its winds.
I have made myself a dream to dream
of its rising, that has gentled my nights.
Let me desire and wish well the life
these trees may live when I
no longer rise in the mornings
to be pleased by the green of them
shining, and their shadows on the ground,
and the sound of the wind in them.

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