Homilies: my contribution to the virtual coffee klatsch
October 05, 2004
Today I'm working on the first of two wedding homilies I get to write this month. As if to provide inspiration, Rachelle over at Notes from a Truth Seeker just posted the homily she wrote for a friend's wedding.
Sometimes the godblogger corner of the blogosphere feels like a clergy-and-lay-leaders coffee clatsch: Father Jake's talking about books, Danya's grooving on Temple dioramas, Karen's musing on St. Francis, Elf recaps the Yom Kippur service she helped put together (which sounds lovely, and not just because they used one of my poems!), Vicar Tony is thinking about how the Church, and God, change over time. And Rachelle and I are writing wedding homilies. It's nice to know I'm not alone.
I've written a wedding homily once before: last fall, when I married my dear friends J and C. I felt impossibly honored when they asked me to work with them on writing their ceremony, and to officiate for them. I expected I might be nervous, when the time came, but in reality I was anything but; I felt solid, strong, connected with something far greater than myself. I felt like me, only better. I feel that way sometimes when I'm reading poems to a good audience, but it's hard to sustain that feeling through a whole poetry reading. Serving as wedding officiant was easy, though: the focus felt natural. And giving the homily was a kick. I had spoken with both bride and groom about each other and their relationship during the wedding-planning process, and I drew on those conversations in the homily...and at one point the bride burst out, "Did I say that?" The whole room laughed.
This homily has been slightly more challenging to write. I met this couple over the summer; the groom's father was one of the signatories on my Justice of the Peace application (on which no word, as yet, though I continue to hope). He's a neighbor of a friend of mine, and as we chatted before he signed the application, he mentioned that his son had just gotten engaged and might be looking for an officiant. Sure enough, I got an email the following week, and started working with N and K in July.
I want their homily to be short and sweet, to say something meaningful about marriage in general and about them in particular. And I want its tone, its metaphors, to suit the couple. That's the hard part, because we've only known each other for a season. It's a fascinating challenge, honestly. I've always championed the power of language to transform (which is never so obvious as it is in a wedding, when speaking a set of words actually changes one's relationship with another human being); this is my chance to put my wordcraft to work in service of these two people. Exciting, but a little daunting, too.
Last weekend I did my first babynaming for a couple I hadn't known before they engaged me. I've created and performed naming/welcoming ceremonies before, but always for family and friends. I'd met the baby's mothers via email and over the phone, and we'd traded drafts of the ceremony back and forth, but we'd never met in person before I drove out to their house on Saturday morning. I had wondered whether I would be nervous then, too...but my putative jitters were nowhere to be found. I made friendly conversation with the grandparents, gathered everyone in a circle in their beautiful backyard, and made the ceremony happen. I imagine that marrying K and N will feel similar.
This work is a natural outgrowth of what I've been doing these last few years, but when I stop to think about it I realize I'm absurdly lucky to get to do these things. What could be more exciting to a poet than proof that language really does have power? And what could be more fun than working with people to shape the words that bring something holy, something timeless, into their lives?
Speaking of shaping words...that homily draft is calling my name.