Four years ago today, Sari & I held our commitment ceremony. We were celebrating the ten years we had already been together and formally cementing our relationship. And all because Sari had the good sense to propose to me!
I had long had an aversion to the idea of marriage, partly because my parents were so bad at it, and partly because I was offended at the idea that a religious or state institution was empowered to marry us — while at the same time preventing others (e.g., gay couples) from enjoying the same priviliges. So together Sari and I crafted a ceremony without any official endorsements, outside in a meadow (in upstate New York) with just our friends and family as officiants. And at the end we “married” ourselves.
We cobbled the ceremony together from a friend’s wedding, which was based on a secular humanist text, some other sources, and our own inventions, edits, and additions. And we were blessed by the participation of not only the 50 or so witnesses, but an amazing group of friends and family who together performed the service. We’ve since had the pleasure of attending a number of weddings which used our text as the basis for their ceremony. It would be nice to think that this type of event is taking on a life of its own.
The day of the ceremony was one of those perfect days — much like today — with temperatures in the 80s and no humidity. The sky was blue, with just a few clouds, and I’ll always remember it as one of the last truly happy days before the horrors to come. Only 16 days later, on another pefect late summer day, two planes flew into the World Trade Center.
In celebration of our fourth anniversary, I’m attaching the text of the ceremony below.
p.s. Special prize to anyone who can identify the source of our actual vows. They’re from two divergent places.
COMMITMENT CEREMONY FOR SARI WILSON AND JOSH NEUFELD
Sunday, August 26, 2001
Austerlitz, New York
Music by PAULETTE, friend of the couple, and EVAN, Sari’s brother
JOSH and SARI walk down forest path and enter meadow together
LEN, Josh’s father:
We begin this ceremony of commitment with an ancient poem used in Hindu wedding ceremonies.
Yes, we have become partners.
I have become yours.
Hereafter, I cannot live without you.
Do not live without me.
Let us share the joys.
We are word and meaning, united.
You are thought and I am sound.
DANIELLE, friend of the couple:
In the life of each of us, there are a few days which stand apart from all others as “golden days.” One of them is our wedding day. It is a day when the light of our happiness shines forth as we look at each other and make a commitment that will shape our lives from this day forward. Today is such a day for Saralyn Wilson and Joshua Neufeld.
MARTHA, Josh’s mother:
We have come together at the fullness of summer, a time when the energy of life, of growth, is at its zenith. It is with gratitude that we find ourselves amidst the bounty of this land and the generosity of our hosts, Bob and Nancy Wilson. Today we offer the hope that Sari and Josh’s life together will feature abundance, that this good relationship will help to nurture their spirits and promote their growth.
Into this state of marriage these two people come now to be united by their sacred words, by the recognition of their families and friends, by your abiding devotion to each of them, and to both of them.
So we welcome you to this ceremony. Your presence adds to the joy of the occasion and reminds Sari and Joshua that they do not belong to one another alone but to a larger congregation of friends and relatives who wish them well. In recognition of this, Josh and Sari have asked the community gathered here to act as the officiant for this ceremony.
Today, we come together to honor the mysterious future, to see where this journey will take Sari and Joshua — and to offer our hopes and blessings to them as they set out.
WARREN, friend of the couple:
Josh and Sari, this is a day you will remember in the years to come. For in this world which so often rewards the provisional and the temporary, you have chosen to make something permanent. Your decision to share your lives with each other is a reflection of the love offered to you by your parents, who brought you into this world and reared you; and by your friends, who have helped you become the people you are today. Those of us who know and love you are glad you have found one another and that you have decided to pledge yourselves to one another. You bring from your community rich treasures of memories and stories, of traditions, faith, values and love that guided you to this place today.
JAKE, friend of the couple:
Rather than signifying a new start, this ceremony celebrates a deepening of your commitment to one another. It affirms and makes lasting a love that has existed for many years, that began when the two of you first chose to combine your separate lives into one.
No one, not the state, nor a religion, can create this marriage. Only you, Saralyn and Joshua, can marry yourselves; by a mutual commitment to love each other, to create an atmosphere of care and consideration and respect. By embracing the joys and pleasures of life as well as facing its tensions and anxieties, you can make your wedded life flourish. This ceremony marks the moment when this relationship you have been creating gains a new, richer meaning.
NANCY, Sari’s mother:
Marriage is the joining of two lives, the mystical, physical and emotional union of two human beings, two individuals who willingly choose to set aside the solitary exploration of themselves to discover who they are in the presence of one another. This companionship on life’s journey is the hallmark of marriage.
Marriage is a blessing but it is also a responsibility. It is a commitment to care for one another with all the tenderness and consideration of which you are capable. To take on such responsibility for another life, to bind yourself, to carry such burdens, might seem limited and overwhelming, were it not for love.
“Love” is a word often used with vagueness and sentimentality. We mean something very real. When we bind ourselves in love, it can mean sweet freedom and fulfillment. When we love, we see things other people do not see. And to be loved is to be seen and known as we are known to no other. In being loved, we aspire to goals and achievements we would not otherwise hope for. It is a great blessing when someone believes in our dream of ourselves and wants to help make the dream come true.
ZOE, friend of the couple:
This love also means security. Each of use would like to have an absolute security. This we cannot have. But we come close to it when we are loved, when another human being wants us, wants to share life with us, accepts us without qualification or reservation, not as perfect — but as human, with all our strengths and weaknesses. Beyond all religious traditions, beyond all philosophies and cultures, love between two people is a profound spiritual experience.
We hope that Sari and Josh will often recall this day, when, with courage and conviction, they discovered within themselves the faith to make a genuine commitment to one another.
BLESSING OF COUPLE
TORI, friend of the couple:
As Sari and Josh begin this new stage of their lives together, we have many wishes for them.
We wish for them a home, not something bought with money, or made of brick and stone, but a home which is a center for a way of life created out of their very selves. We hope that they will make a true home, a center and a base for both of them, for their sharing of life. We hope they always find rest there when they are tired, new strength when they are discouraged. And we hope that this home embodies what they most value: their strength and their vitality, their intelligence and their love of books and art, their sense of humanity and social justice, and their love of laughter and life.
BOB, Sari’s father:
We pray that when differences arise between them, and they will, that they never blind them to the good in each other. May they find patience and understanding and forgiveness so that the problems they face deepen and strengthen their love.
May that love and the promises they make to each other today be a touchstone to which they return again and again throughout the years. May they remember this community gathered to bless and consecrate this marriage.
Josh and Sari, may your sense of shared purpose and clarity deepen; may your happiness increase; and may the service you render the larger world be enhanced rather than diminished by your devotion to each other.
BLESSING OF RINGS
DEAN, friend of the couple:
Sari and Josh, may I have the rings, please?
The circle is the symbol of the sun, the earth, and the universe, which is without beginning and without end, the infinite oneness of which we are a reflection. The circle is the symbol of the unity that embraces and contains us. and all the things around us. The circle is the symbol of completion and peace, with which two lives shall be joined in one unbroken band of love. These rings are a symbol of the unity of your two lives, and a reminder that wherever you go, you shall return to one another.
And now, before Josh and Sari exchange the rings, they ask you each to bless them as they are passed amongst you in silence.
Rings are passed and returned.
Thank you. And now Sari and Josh will exchange their vows of commitment.
SARI: We come together to share our strengths, our hopes and our knowledge.
JOSH: We come together to share our love, our lives and our future.
SARI: We are always two, but we will always be one.
JOSH: I love you and respect all that you are.
SARI: I embrace all that is yours with all that I am.
JOSH: I, Josh, take you, Sari…
SARI: I, Sari, take you, Josh…
JOSH: For richer, for poorer…
SARI: In sickness and in health…
JOSH: To love and to honor…
SARI: To hold and to keep…
JOSH: From each sun to each moon…
SARI: From tomorrow to tomorrow…
JOSH: From now to forever…
SARI: Till death do us part.
EXCHANGING OF THE RINGS
JOSH: I give you this ring as a symbol of my love and our marriage. I, Joshua Michael Rosler Neufeld, pledge myself as your loving husband.
SARI: I give you this ring as a symbol of my love and our marriage. I, Saralyn Gail Wilson, pledge myself as your loving wife.
Stacey, friend of the couple:
Now let’s join Sari and Josh in continuing this celebration!
Josh & Sari head down to champagne and toasts, followed by congregation.