"What we bring to the altar, will be forever altered" Marianne Williamson
I was having coffee this morning with a beautiful bride, Jess, who I'll be marrying in two weeks. She was reflecting on her experience of planning and preparing for her wedding and I was struck by her insight because it reveals an aspect of the wedding planning process that is often undermined by the discourse of weddings being stressful/expensive/materialistic/painful etc.
Jess said that the whole process felt like a blossoming. Which immediately struck me as something that I've witnessed in my own friends as they have prepared for their weddings. You might have noticed it, too - women and men becoming more radiant and 'on purpose' than ever in the lead up to their day. There is a kind of coming-of-age that can take place as someone prepares for a ceremony such a wedding. This is actually the point of ceremony - an opportunity to mark the transition from one way of being to another. Child to woman or man, lover to wife or husband. But this only takes place if we enter into the ceremony with awareness of its significance, which is precisely what Jess was describing.
She said that the process had called her to work through any aspects of herself that weren't in alignment with the wife that she wants to be, and eventually the mother she hopes to be. Wow. Much of the literature that drew me to ceremony initially (Women Who Run With The Wolves, Marianne Williamson's Illuminata, to name a couple) speak about ceremony as offering a portal. As we step through the portal (standing at the altar, exchanging vows/rings, moving through the ancient rituals of marriage) we allow an old self to die (traditionally the equivalent of what we now know as hens/bucks parties were more like sacred funerals for that old self) and we emerge as a new version.
Of course, the ceremony is only a symbolic representation of the process that has taken place. If the people getting married aren't showing up with the intention to evolve then of course they won't. However, if we can become crystal clear about our intention for holding the ceremony, that is, knowing who and how we want to be/feel/act when we stand at the altar, the power of ceremony can be truly transformative.
One obvious place that I can see this playing out is the 'wedding shred'. On one level we can see this as a fairly superficial exercise in wanting to look good for a day that will be documented and remembered for the rest of your life. But if we scratch the surface, is it possible that there is something more intuitive going on here, some deeper awareness of the significance of preparing for the marriage ceremony and what it offers us as a catalyst for personal growth? I see that my couples want to show up as their best selves because somehow, even though it feels in one sense as if it's a day just like any other, they know that in truth something very significant is taking place.
I found myself in this role as a celebrant because I'm fascinated by ceremony and convinced that it is an essential practice for human beings to thrive as communities. Despite the wedding industry appearing to be a wild beast of consumerism that is far from the spiritual origins of the marriage ceremony, I am determined to keep my focus on the moments and practices that continue to speak to the sacred tradition. There is a reason couples are still choosing to get married despite it serving no practical purpose. The love, time and energy that I see my couples pouring into wedding planning represents to me that the significance of the ceremony has not been lost, but has perhaps been obscured by the glitz and hype of the party.
Jess affirmed to me today why I do what I do. I feel truly blessed to meet and marry so many wonderful like-minded couples. For all of my upcoming brides and grooms, and to anyone who is planning their ceremony, I hope that you find the time during this process to step back from the spreadsheet and the Pinterest-ing to take stock of why it is that you are choosing to stand at the altar. As Marianne Williamson says: "What we bring to the altar, will forever be altered". Be prepared for the growth, be prepared for the shedding. Use this time to blossom. Move towards your wedding day with a clear intention of who you want to become when you emerge from the ceremony and do the work to shed whatever is not in alignment with that. I'm quite inclined to believe that if we leave out this part of the process, we've missed the point entirely.