Rituals give structure to life, and while we should not become slaves to our customs, we shouldn’t needlessly discard them. Just as children need boundaries, patterns of living make us feel comfortable. And while rebels are sometimes lauded – from a safe distance – a civil society is made possible by a measure of conformity. Some might argue that those we see living on the street are rebellious non-conformists – modern day James Deans. Unfortunately, most of these poor souls are actually driven by their demons of mental illness and drugs.
I remain fascinated by the Exodus story in the Bible, where more than 1.5 million Hebrews were suddenly liberated from Egyptian slavery, and found themselves wandering in the desert without water, provisions or much in the way of even basic laws. The “back to Egypt” cabal quickly challenged Moses and God’s leadership, stating they would be better off living as slaves in Egypt rather than dying in the desert. Well, most know the rest of the story how God provided food and water for his throng of exiles. He even gave them “speed limits” for living together, the Ten Commandments and other rules to supplant the laws of Egypt.
A wedding is a ritual which I believe remains very important. In some cultures women have few rights even when married, but in post-modern western culture this is not the case. Though I’m no legal-beagle, our culture even recognizes common-law marriages. These “marriages” were especially important on the American frontier. My point is that marriage is more in the minds and hearts of two people rather than any piece of paper sanctioned by the institutions of man. (I’ll not rehash the odious redefinition of marriage by SCOTUS.)
Arguably, the wedding day belongs to the bride, even though the wedding ritual imparts a foundation of lifetime commitment to both. There is something about standing in the presence of friends and God, and reciting the traditional wedding vows, established by nature and convention, that is meaningful to the couple and the witnesses. Many times I’ve contemplated my own wedding vows as I’ve watched others swear faithfulness and steadfastness to each other. Sure, you can run down to City Hall and get married or use a “wedding chapel” in Vegas or Gatlinburg, but anticipation and planning, and finally “standing in the Presence,” adds solemnity, foundation and gravitas to life-long commitment.
Becky and I have resisted offering advice to our daughter, Emily, and future son-in-law, Matt. The witness of our marriage of forty years means far more than any platitudes we might voice. However, while waiting for our women one day I did share with Matt “Ferguson’s rule #9”: Never leave the building before your wife. If you do so you’ll find yourself waiting in the car, getting frustrated and wondering what’s she’s doing. Women are the glue of our society, and they never leave before everything and everyone are taken care of.
I don’t remember much about the planning of my own wedding four decades ago. Perhaps I deferred to Becky who worked for years as a wedding coordinator. Perhaps I was focused on finishing medical school. And it was different then. I’ve observed that Matt and Emily are equally participating in their wedding plans and responsibilities. Lots of details go into a formal wedding, and if Emily and Matt approach the rest of their lives with this degree of sharing their marriage will be successful.
As Mother of the Bride, Becky has a big part in the “wedding of the century.” I play a supportive role, though I do have three principle responsibilities: write a lot of checks, don’t say anything stupid and don’t stumble during the father-daughter dance.
By the time you read this essay Emily will be married and the last stage of my daughter’s “launch sequence” will have occurred – and hopefully my three responsibilities accomplished. As the new couple soared into their future amidst toasts, the father-writer-philosopher couldn’t resist one piece of advice for a successful marriage. It was based on Ecclesiastes 4:12 and braiding the hair of little girls.
My toast was short and poignant. It needed to be short as tears filled my eyes, and ended on a light hearted note, “So, here’s to love and laughter, and happy ever afters!” And I didn’t stumble at the father’s final hurdle.