Last week I sat on a wooden bench underneath a stained glass ceiling and watched my friends hold hands and proclaim vows to each other.
Their story stretches across years and continents like only the greatest love stories do. It’s been nearly five years since he saw her across the airport in a new country after they’d flown for days from opposite corners of the world. Across countless continents and years and jobs and no thank yous, they are finally here, in her hometown saying yes to each other.
I believe in them. I believe in their vows, spoken clearly before God and all of us. They have woven a connection of love and friendship together, and they are putting it into stately commitments, once and for all. I believe in their love for each other.
I sat there with my palms up on knees, breathing in the holiness of it all. I’m a frequent crier at pomp and circumstance of all kinds, but especially weddings.
But then the pastor started in, like many pastors at weddings do, with Genesis 2.
He said that God performed the first wedding in Eden, at the actual beginning of the world. He said that humans are not meant to be alone and that God made us this way: to each need a helper. He said that this was the best way we understand God’s love for us all, to experience this relationship. He said that this wedding, this ceremony in a church, reflects God’s love like no other occasion.
I felt my throat tighten up a bit and my attention jump away, when he started talking like that. I focused very intently on the bright pink stripes of my favorite dress, willing my mind to stay here and present. I wanted to cry for a very different reason than when I saw my beautiful friend smile brightly at her groom.
I felt the rage and loss run up my spine. I wanted to run away so badly. I had to dig the spikes of my leopard heels into the carpet to keep myself grounded.
I believe the pastor meant well, like most people at most weddings do. But the way he was talking fit a pattern of so many weddings before, and I don’t know what to do about it.
He didn’t celebrate a general human connection or our relationships with each other, talking like that at a wedding. He didn’t invoke a community that is deep and meaningful. He didn’t celebrate the mysterious way we are meant to help each other become more fully ourselves by arguing about things on the internet or laughing over pints on backyard patios or passing down love to the children around us. He didn’t talk about how humans, in collective spaces, show us how God is present among us.
He was talking about pairs. One man and one woman in a garden.
He described Genesis 2 as a literal example of the way God made pairs of male and female humans to be lined up according to our gender roles and sent off in a line to propagate the earth.
I love weddings, but once all that starts, I’m all gone.
Because some of us feel like we were lined up in neat pairs and marched off a cliff.
Some of us are matched so well, but our loves and commitments are profoundly unwelcome under that stained glass.
Some of us aren’t sure where we are.
Some of us are in the garden, alone.
This isn’t a pity party. I’m not looking for a simple dismissive encouragement that there is A One or that I’ll find him. I’m looking for us to do better in the way we speak of these things.
Even now, with my pink striped party dress hanging up in my closet, I feel slapped by those sentiments. I have so many questions.
Am I really missing the most important way humans model God’s love because I’m not married? Am I really only barely okay unless I’ve got a matching ring set with an opposite gender human? Is the bond I have with steady friends of twenty years just a half-love?
Church, is this true? Because you tell me that I matter, as a single woman, but then you show me, over and over, that I don’t.
Church, we are speaking out of both sides of our mouths when it comes to human value and marriage.
What am I supposed to do, hearing those words as a single woman? Or as the man whose wife just left? Or the widow of eleven years? Or the unhappily and unhealthily paired? Is there a way to speak life and holiness to this eager couple on the stage, without dismissing those of us sitting in the audience who are different?
Maybe it wasn’t the time or the place or the day for it, but I wish the exceptions were acknowledged at weddings. I wish Genesis 2 were seen as an ancient, true poem. I wish it was big enough to capture us all, in our vast and complicated connections and commitments to each other and to God.
I wish there was an acknowledgement, even in vows and til-death-do-us-parts, of the realities of the world. I wish there was a celebration of deep rooted friendship beyond marriage ceremonies, with just as much wine and dancing afterward.
And I want these things not just for me and my feet so eager to run out of the room at the first hint of dismissal.
I want a better conversation for all of us together: for those holding hands on stage, and those holding hands in the pews, and those who are clenching their hands, alone, into fists.