I am sitting at my desk on the morning of my daughter’s wedding, thinking and writing about this auspicious day.
The sun is not even peeking over my horizon to the east. I went to bed late, watching Seth Meyers, listening to a podcast on Cynthia Bourgealt, and trying to get to sleep. My soul woke me at at 5:30, prompting me to get my stuff together for the day.
It is a day that I knew was coming, even on the day my daughter entered the world at Piedmont hospital in Atlanta. I made a vow that I would not officiate at my parent’s funeral, and I kept it. I made a similar vow about not officiating at my daughter’s wedding, and I am breaking that in a few hours, because she asked.
God gave me a son to practice on for two years before trusting me with a daughter. Good call.
I always knew this day was coming, that my daughter would fall in love and make a new life away from her mother and me. It’s the contract you sign before you leave the hospital with a baby girl. I think I could claim “insanity through joy” which could nullify my signature, but it seems late on the day of the ceremony, so many plans made…..
Mary Glen and Michael will be married on the marshes of Glynn, here on St. Simon Island. Michael grew up here and loves this place, and my daughter has caught the bug of being enthralled by the coastal beauty of low country. So it’s fitting, meet and right, as we Episcopalians say, harkening back to our Anglican roots.
I will use the liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer for the wedding. In the middle, I have to say something, as a sermon is prescribed. If you remember the advice that my boss Lancaster told me, I am hoping to rally this morning and not merely say something but have something to say.
I actually wrote an email to my two Trappist monk friends that are still alive to pray for me on this day, especially. Pray that I will stay centered. Pray that I will speak truth. And, for God’s sake, pray that I don’t embarrass my daughter.
Back in the day, when I was the Canon Pastor at the Cathedral of St. Philip, we would do three weddings a weekend: High Noon, for the drama; 4 PM for the cocktail crowd; and 8 PM for the white-tie Buckhead folks. When a priest did the wedding, one had the duty to show up for the rehearsal that Friday night, which pretty well took up your weekend.
I couldn’t believe the older priests would refer all their couples to me for weddings. I thought it must be due to my clinical training as a marriage and family therapist. Just how gracious were these old codgers referring all these couples to me, the youngest priest on the planet. And then, I figured out the gig. I wound up many weekends having three rehearsals Friday afternoon, spending my entire Saturday doing weddings. I had been “had” by these old goats.
Always ingenious, I would finish up my rehearsals, head up to Lake Lanier with my wife, take my sailboat out and anchor in a cove, cook out, and have a romantic evening on the lake, listening to Phil Collins and James Taylor. Up in the morning, sail for a few hours, drive in to Atlanta, shower, and let the weddings begin. That is the Galloway style of time management.
The years of doing high-dollar nuptials in that social setting sort of did me in on weddings. They became social occasions that begged the religious connection. I actually did a white-tie wedding with Howard Cosell, Barbara Walters, and most of ABC in attendance. I guess me pitching my idea for a priest-based sitcom was a bit gauche, but you got to try, as Lyle Lovett taught me. Hell, he got Julia Roberts for a while…..you gotta try!
When I left the Cathedral, just after my daughter, Mary Glen, was born, I was worn slap out with weddings. In Texas, where men are men, and cows are king, the weddings came at a more civilized pace and I got back to normal….as normal as I can get.
One wedding in particular is etched in my memory. It was for the daughter of two of my best friends, Betty and Guy Danielson. Betty wanted the ceremony to be on her horse farm, which is cool…I have loved horses all my life. In fact, in my early years, Urban “Terry” Holmes helped my to identify my Spirit Animal, which I discerned as a horse, specifically, a stallion. I later morphed into a bear, with a den one asks permission to enter, and now an owl, who sometimes gives a hoot.
Back to the wedding. It was to be in July at the hottest time of the year in Texas. Somehow, a cool front blew through, prompting me to begin my sermon with the observation that even God doesn’t mess with Betty Danielson. As I offered my superb theological comments, I noticed people laughing, not at the right places in my routine. I turned around to see two horses copulating behind me, which is a native American sign of blessing. Too bad the Danielson’s aren’t Cherokee, but Oklahomans.
With all those weddings to perform, and with the requirement of a sermon for each one, I began a serious collection of sermon stories, a raft of tales and platitudes that would send a blushing bride and anxious groom off into a blaze of glory down Peachtree Road. One time, I joked about wishing I could wave my arms in the sign of the cross, blessing the marriage, sending the happy couple off into their future bliss in white carriage drawn by white horses. And damned if, on that very day, there wasn’t a white coach with white horses waiting after the ceremony to take them into the sunset down Peachtree Road. That nearly did me in, as we say in the biz.
My favorite story to tell in the nuptial rite was about an old Baptist preacher I knew, Will Campbell. Will grew up in Mississippi but went and got educated at Yale. He returned to Mississippi and didn’t last too long in the traditional church. He was noted for his activism, particularly around racial reconciliation. But Will did it his own way. He not only served as a chaplain to the NAACP, but also served as the chaplain to the Ku Klux Klan. He would remind folks that God loved everybody…..even bigots! I am trying hard to remember that these days.
He was famous for his iconoclastic weddings. He would ceremoniously take out the official Marriage License from his black coat pocket, look at it, over the rims of his glasses, inspecting for authenticity, and then wildly sign his name on the dotted line as the officiant. Then he would hold the four-copy document high in the air, held by two fingers, and then drop it, letting the cheap government paper flutter unceremoniously to the ground. When the document hit Mother Earth, Will would solemnly announce: Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s. Now, let’s get on with the wedding!
It was his prophetic way of reminding the observers, and most importantly, the couple, of the primacy of the vows that they are making with one another, and before God, and the community. The triadic, covenantal relationship took precedence and priority over any social manners or government sponsored contract! You could hardly miss his point.
Being a young priest, I did not have the brass to quixotically make the prophetic action. I merely told the story of this old Baptist preacher I once knew and let Will live and preach in the telling of the story. It would have to do until I was old enough to find his courage.
That’s probably how I am opening this immediate family ceremony on the marsh. We’ll see. I may melt into a puddle of daddy-of-the-bride tears. All I wanted was to be Steve Martin for the day and, instead, I turn into Karl Malden on the Waterfront.
So as the sun comes up this morning, I find myself centering, focusing, pausing. It will be okay. It will be fine, or as St. Julian of Norwich said, all will be well. Try telling that to a wedding planner or my wife!
Postscript to the wedding: It all went well. A cool breeze kept the skeeters and humidity at bay. Mary Glen and Michael were married, though no horses showed up. Rather, Reagan, my favorite Black Lab, graced the gathering, which will do fine for a sign. Michael’s mother, Kit, and her parents, Kappy and Paul, were there. My Nashville musician son, Thomas, served as the ring bearer for both, and my wife, Mary, fixed the train for our daughter to make her way down the trail to the marsh.
I did not shed a tear, nor did I fall, once again beating the family betting pool. I did tear up when I saw the taped toasts from Mary Glen’s college friends who shared the Barber St. house in Athens, where REM once lived. It was a lovely time, a holy time, that made me glad to find the freedom to break a vow, even when I am officiating while others make their vow of marriage.
Mazel tov, y’all !