Interfaith Weddings: A testing ground for world peace?
Picture this scene: On a hillside at Skamania Lodge, overlooking the majestic Columbia with mountains beyond, the sky emblazoned with fluffy clouds and sunshine that just burst onto the scene, the wind blowing slightly, a young couple is marrried under the traditional Jewish wedding canopy called a “chuppah”. The couple designed and constructed it themselves. It will eventually end up in their backyard as part of their landscape decor.
Grandma Phyilis tearfully reads a version of Psalm I. Grandma carries the Christian element and hails from Idaho. Everyone is choked up.
The siblings of the bride and groom read several stanzas from The Chinook Wedding Blessing,. The groom has some Native American blood in his heritage and wants to honor both that fact and the couple’s strong connection with nature, since they both work for the forest service.
The parents, all standing with the couple under the chuppah, read a contemporary version of the “Seven Wedding Blessings.” a traditional Jewish part of a wedding ceremony. The father of the bride says the blessing over the wine in Hebrew:
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheynu Melech Haolam, borey p’ree hagaffen.
Blessed are you, king of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.
plus the officiant reads an “astronomical blessing” that focuses on gratitude to earth, cosmos and the unknowable unknown.
The couple both have Irish blood, and so choose to do a handfasting, the Celtic style of
union, which involves the tying of their hands together:
"As the right hand is to the left hand, may you be forever one, sharing in all things, at home and abroad, in love and loyalty for all time to come."
Handfasting can be quite elaborate, with many strands. This one is simple. The essence is that it represents the strength of their bond. But since they cannot be physically joined all the time, rings replace the cord as the visible symbol of their marriage.
The ring ceremony ends with a reading of an Irish wedding blessing:
May you be slow to make enemies and quick to make friends.
May you see your children's children.
May you be poor in misfortune and rich in blessings.
But rich or poor, quick or slow,
May you know happiness from this day forward.
May the joys of today be those of tomorrow.
.At the conclusion of the ceremony the groom “breaks the glass” - the traditional ending to a Jewish wedding. The ceremony is a transformational process and the glass breaking carries ancient energy - the glass shatters as a reminder that relationships are fragile, requiring great care and, as well, there’s brokenness in the world and we have responsibility in helping to heal some of that brokenness.
After the wedding the couple will take some time for themselves, called “Yichud” in the Jewish tradition, which means “union” and “seclusion”., a time to just soak in the significance of the moment just passed
So - is this just a hodgepodge of cultural traditions thrown together into one ceremony? Or is it a magical blending of all of these traditions that, in the end, reflects who this couple is and who they aspire to become? If we go deep enough at this stage in the evolution of American culture most of us are some kind of conglomerate - and when we choose to marry another conglomerate we have quite the mixture of cultural traditions. This is what interfaith weddings are all about.
In the marriage ceremony above we have drawn from Jewish, Christian, Celtic and Native American cultures. Marriage is a time when couples have the opportunity to look more deeply into their heritage, more deeply into their beliefs and values. Every couple is different. In some, one heritage may dominate. In others, as this one, there is an openness to all their traditions.
We live in a time when tolerance, understanding and acceptance of all the world’s religious and spiritual traditions is paramount to promoting world peace. Perhaps interfaith marriages are testing grounds for how well people of diverse faiths can get along with each other. It is remarkable also how the families of these young people rise to the occasion. They embrace what is different from their own tradition. The love they have for their children and their wish for their happiness overrides any reservations they might have towards another cultural tradition. And so we see a breaking down of prejudice, suspicion, “other”. It’s at least one front on which, in the intimacy of a relationship, folks can practice the art of understanding someone from a different culture - hopefully with a strong chance for success.