One year ago today - April 5, 2018 - I got to officiate a desert elopement; one of the most extraordinary wedding ceremonies of my career.
Well, to back up a little, Jahara and Joe first flew me from Western Massachusetts to Palm Springs, California, arranging for a rental SUV and the most amazing tiny house: a midcentury homesteader on with spectacular uninterrupted views of Indian Cove and Joshua Tree National Park.
But why here, now?
Joe had proposed to Jahara in Joshua Tree on that very day, two years earlier. (And today, one year after their desert elopement, they are hosting a celebration of their marriage with all their family and friends. How cool is that???)
I cherished this intimate moment; the sisterly ritual of preparation. Jenn & Pawel Photography, a husband and wife team, quietly captured everything.
When all was ready, Joe and Jahara took five minutes to meditate separately while I made my way to the ceremony site. The couple had prepared the perfect elements to anchor ourselves in the vast desert landscape, making their own wedding arch out of copper piping, as well as an altar table to hold the earth (soil from their home states), fire (smudge stick), water (from their oceanside home) and air (a singing bowl) we used in an opening ritual. Florals from The Bloomin Gypsy graced the space.
What followed was one of the most authentic and loving wedding ceremonies I have ever presided over or participated in. With hearts wide open, we all shared an abundance of both laughter and tears.
Before they exchanged their vows and rings, Jahara and Joe spoke Thich Nhat Hanh's Four Mantras of True Presence:
Darling, I am here for you.
Darling, I know you are there and it makes me happy.
Darling, I know you suffer and I am here for you.
Darling, I am suffering and I need your help.
Darling, this is a happy moment.
After the ceremony, Joe and Jahara danced under the desert sky for the first time as husband and wife.
They had ample time then to stroll hand in hand, kissing and laughing and reveling in their happiness while the sun shone, the air sparkled and the wind carried forth a generous blessing of love.
"Look at one another and remember this moment in time. Before this moment you have been many things to one another – acquaintance, friend, companion, lover, dancing partner, even teacher, for you have learned much from one another these past few years.
Shortly you shall say a few words that will take you across a threshold of life, and things between you will never quite be the same. For after today you shall say to the world–
This is my husband. This is my wife."
~ Robert Fulghum
Check out these scenes from my stay in Joshua Tree, CA!
When I first launched Grace Ceremonies, I didn’t officiate elopements or civil ceremonies. Of course, I would work with couples who wanted their wedding to be just the two of them, but I used to think it would be kind of strange if I just “showed up” to preside over a ceremony.
I’m so glad I changed my mind! Over the years I have officiated elopement ceremonies from backyards to town commons, libraries to living rooms, Look Park to Smith College, Mt. Tom to the Quabbin Reservoir.
Every so often, a couple even comes to me! I marry them right here at my office in Florence, with all my little tea candles lit and all our warm hearts glowing.
True, it’s not the same depth of connection I have when I get to know a couple well—their love story, their dreams and aspirations—but it still is incredibly special.
At elopement ceremonies I often name that they are different, reminding the couple (and anyone else present) that no matter what shape or form a wedding takes, it will be one of the most important days in the lives of those two people.
When I stand with a couple, whether alone or witnessed by family and friends, the quality of love and joy and fulfillment is just the same as my other ceremonies.
Remember, not every wonderful wedding is a big one; some of my favorites have actually been the littlest ones.
One of my favorite elements of their interfaith ceremony was the incredible chuppah. Here's an excerpt from the ceremony:
"Today we formalize your union under this beautiful chuppah, made by Meghan’s father. The wedding canopy, made by Meghan’s mother from pieces of fabric contributed by both families, represents your marriage home, a place of shelter and haven of peace. The chuppah is the house of promises, held up by the strength of your dedication and love. It is the home of hope, surrounded with the support of your community."
Adapted from “The Chuppah,” by Marge Piercy
The chuppah stands on four poles.
The sacred promises you make to one another form an unbreakable bond. As you hold the hands of your beloved, I would offer your marriage this traditional Irish blessing:
May green be the grass you walk on,
May blue be the skies above you,
May pure be the joys that surround you,
May true be the hearts that love you.
May God be with you and bless you;
May you see your children's children.
May you be poor in misfortune,
Rich in blessings,
May you know nothing but happiness
From this day forward.
I had the honor of officiating Persis & Ryan's wedding last July at the Hancock Shaker Village in the Berkshires region of Western Massachusetts. With its verdant lawns and iconic round stone barn, this historic location makes an incredible wedding venue!
"Hannah was a wonderful officiant – she crafted a beautiful ceremony that was reflective of our values and relationship. The ceremony was our favorite part of our wedding, thanks to her guidance and honest writing. She was very responsive to our needs throughout this process and really took the time to get to know us as a couple, which made our ceremony that much more meaningful. I highly recommend working with her!"
In honor of the bride's mother, the couple decided to incorporate a yugal or wedding garland used in the Filipino Catholic tradition. Wrapped around the couple’s shoulders as a symbol of unity, the figure of eight shape signifies their everlasting love and fidelity for one another.
The bride's grandmother recited a brief excerpt from the Lavaan, the four hymns of the Sikh wedding ceremony from the holy scripture of the Guru Granth Sahib, and also sang a portion of a shabad, or Sikh devotional song.
“A Blessing for the Journey”
by Wendy Egyoku Nakao
Let us vow to bear witness
to the wholeness of life,
realizing the completeness
of each and everything.
Embracing our differences,
I shall know myself as you,
and you as myself.
May we serve each other
for all our days,
here, there, and everywhere.
Let us vow to open ourselves
to the abundance of life.
Freely giving and receiving,
I shall care for you,
for the trees and stars,
as treasures of my very own.
Let us vow to forgive all hurt,
caused by ourselves and others,
and to never condone hurtful ways.
Being responsible for my actions,
I shall free myself and you.
Will you free me, too?
Let us vow to remember that
all that appears will disappear.
In the midst of our uncertainty,
We shall sow love.
May we be grateful for all our days,
here, there, and everywhere.
"The Art of Marriage"
by Wilferd A. Peterson
Happiness in marriage is not something that just happens. A good marriage must be created. In the art of marriage the little things are the big things...
It is having a mutual sense of values and common objectives. It is standing together facing the world. It is forming a circle of love that gathers in the whole family.
It is doing things for each other, not in the attitude of duty or sacrifice, but in the spirit of joy. It is speaking words of appreciation and demonstrating gratitude in thoughtful ways.
It is not looking for perfection in each other. It is cultivating flexibility, patience, understanding and a sense of humor. It is having the capacity to forgive and forget.
The art of marriage is establishing a relationship in which the independence is equal, dependence is mutual and the obligation is reciprocal. It is not only marrying the right partner, it is being the right partner.
It is discovering what marriage can be, at its best.
I love it when one of my couples shares their wedding with a blog, especially Style Me Pretty, the #1 wedding blog! I had the pleasure of officiating Karin and Craig's wedding last October at The Mount, Edith Wharton's estate in Lenox, Mass. A published novelist herself, Karin's love of literature led the couple from Washington, D.C. to a special wedding at the home of her favorite writer.
Karin said... "I am beyond pleased--elated would be more appropriate--with everything Hannah did for us during, before and after our wedding ceremony. She created a custom wedding ceremony for my now-husband and I that incorporated not only our different Christian backgrounds but my Japanese heritage and our love of literature. Not an easy task! But she made it beautiful, personal and it all flowed together seamlessly."
In Japan, the heart of the Shinto wedding ceremony is the san-san-kudo, the sake ceremony. This ancient and powerful ritual is done in silence for, as the bride and groom take turns sipping from a single cup, they are in essence taking their marriage vows.
Craig made this beautiful wooden altar to hold the pottery cup Karin’s father made many years ago. Today, before the couple performs the san-san-kudo ceremony that will join them together, I would offer this norito, or Shinto prayer:
Bless this couple as unmoving and eternal.
May their lives flourish like luxuriant trees.
May they, bride and groom, together with heaven and earth, with the sun and the moon, continue to give out light and radiance.
Thus we do reverently pray.
Poetry and Musings of an Interfaith Minister on the Journey of a Lifetime.