Friday, July 24, 2009

Real butter

As a general rule, I hate unity candles.

I have been to too many weddings where the couple goes over to light the candle while somebody sings a pop Christian love song that is 2 minutes and 15 seconds too long for the 45 second ritual. (I have even been that singer once.) Then, everyone has to stand there awkwardly until the song ends. In my most hilarious experience with the awkward waiting moment, the stentorian, charismatic pastor put his hand on the groom's shoulder, closed his eyes and just nodded his head or shook it a little, occasionally uttering little guttural noises that clearly communicated that this was a meaningful moment. I respect this pastor in a lot of other ways but this was a little over the top and I struggled to keep from laughing.

Also, I don't like unity candles because so often the bride and groom blow out their own individual candles after they have lit the center candle. I'm all for putting all your eggs in each other's baskets but, really? Keep a little of your individuality, please.

Finally, another general rule in my life is to avoid accumulating decorative junk and I've seen too many $55 candles that were bought at a kiosk at the mall gathering dust in friends' home. I suppose I shouldn't judge their ceremony because it violates one of my own rules but . . . I'm petty like that. I need to hold it at arms' length in whatever way I can so that I am not tempted back to my suburban, materialist life.

So, with all of this baggage, I found myself moved by my friend Erika's unity candle ceremony this past weekend. Both times at the rehearsal and the real time with actual flame made something catch in my chest. Their mothers lit their candles before the service began and after Erika and Brian lit the center candle, they left their own candles lit and pushed them to the back of the altar and, together, moved the center candle forward a little.

That simple movement communicated so clearly, "We continue to value our individual needs but by this act of commitment, we move our relationship to the front of our attention."

It was stunning in its simplicity.

This simplicity reflected the entire ceremony. There were about 75 people in attendance at the small chapel of North Central College. It took about 20 minutes and, aside from their desire to do the unity ceremony their own way, the service was entirely traditional, with nothing that "reflected their personalities perfectly."

But Erika was a different woman once it was completed. I sat on the hotel bed with my fancy hair and make-up in my pajamas that morning and asked her in a quiet moment what she was feeling so I could use her experience as a reference point for my own in 6 weeks. "Ready," she said tightly. She smiled all morning and was never any kind of bridezilla. Still, after the ceremony, her gait and smile and laughter were all a little bit looser. She actually looked several shades darker, like her tan remembered to shine once she was married. It was the difference between this

and this.

Both are gorgeous, one is comfortable.

I look forward to being comfortable with Jacob. Right now, planning this giant event and trying to get certain people to be supportive of our interfaith plans and trying to find a job and the wrestling and tearing of our relationship as it emerges from its chrysalis cause us to fight and snap a fair amount. On Tuesday night, I went into a 45 minute stretch of being tetchy because he had rung the doorbell to be let in with his bike while he should have known I was in the middle of cooking dinner in preparation of his arrival so it would be on the table when he walked in. It was a visceral response that had nothing to do with how well my day had gone or how I actually feel about serving him (I love it). I know myself too well to think these kinds of moments will stop entirely after the wedding. However, I have complete faith that they will drop off quickly once the stress drops off like the trough after the ocean wave. We will get a chance to be comfortable with each other.

I don't think the transformation will happen after the ceremony, like Erika's did. It will probably start after the last guest has left the morning-after brunch and I wake up from my nap. Still, I look forward to it.

I am grateful to Erika for reminding me of what I have to look forward to. I am also grateful to her because her wedding was WIC (wedding industrial complex) all the way. A hotel reception package, matching bridesmaids gowns from David's Bridal, a suite of printed items that all matched, scads of formal pictures, a head table, manis and pedis the day before with the bridesmaids, party bus with hard-drinking groomsmen and goodie bags galore. It was completely predictable in every possible way.

And I did not have a sarcastic, cynical moment the entire weekend.

Look at how much fun is on my face as we mocked the groom for holding bouquets while the other bridesmaids ran to the bathroom at the park we stopped at to take pictures.

This is not the face of a girl who is experiencing the hell of the WIC, which is what you might expect from the way I describe it with horror at times.

Because at the heart of Erika and Brian's cookie-cutter wedding was Erika and Brian, who were full of love and graciousness to all of their guests. All those goody bags? Full of food to sustain us through the drinking and the photos. At the rehearsal dinner in the restaurant, they gave us gifts that rocked, including matching flip-flops for when our silver shoes got painful and a great big silver purse to haul our shit around on the party bus plus an expensive gift certificate to Hancock fabrics, which had to have been individual to me. Thoughtful and full of love.

WIC weddings are just a medium, like a pie crust or potatoes. If you put crappy ingredients in, it's going to suck but good ingredients like love, consideration and real butter, you can get something amazing. Both my brother's wedding earlier this year and now Erika's wedding remind me of that and make me just a tad less judgmental, which means that actually, I've gotten a tad less insecure in my own choices.

Erika has been one of my best friends for over 10 years. I had so much fun over the two days of her wedding and I am so grateful to her for including me in such an honored position. I danced all night (thanks to the DJ and daily bike rides), grew in kinship with the other (tiny) bridesmaids and got a chance to delight in Jacob. What more could I ask for?


Anonymous said...

Love this post. Reminds me of the time I wrote that ranty one about the difference between aesthetics/ethics. Cookie cutter weddings are not less authentic in any way just because folks are not into felting perfect little birdie cake toppers or whatever, and it sounds like this was beautiful.

Also, it's all about intent, isn't it? I find the unity candle generally nauseating because it's a really thoughtless ritual for most people, a way to add a little schmaltz to a blah ceremony--it sounds like your friend performed it with a lot of thought behind it and that's what makes it moving.

Dave said...

I think the two of us are on a lot of very similar wavelengths most of the time, but I have to disagree with you on the post-unity candle lighting symbolism of extenguishing the individual candles (or not). We chose to, not because of tradition or because we were giving up our individuality, but rather because the unification of bride and groom to create one flesh demands that we do so. Not in a paternalistic wife submits to the husband kind of unification, but a submission to each other. It's saying that what we are creating together - this unifying of our flesh - is greater than what we are. We have a chance to experience just a glimpse of the love Christ has for his bride. We no longer are craving the individuality because it pales in comparison to the new creation.

I'm probably extrapolating too much, but it actually was a very conscious decision on our part to extinguish the personal flames after lighting the unity candle.

PrincessMax said...


No one has ever really explained it to me that way before. From a deliberate Christian perspective, that makes perfect sense.

I always like it when you disagree with me.

Christy said...

I just cracked a smile over the interruption of dinner-making... we just started cohabitating and I have experienced the same mix of joy and tension in having dinner ready when he gets home. Press on!