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Weddings: Why Ceremony? Why Ritual? (Part Two)

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"Weddings are increasingly notable for their amazing lack of intimacy, their evolution into industry," National Public Radio's Jacki Lyden declared in her commentary, "Spectacle of Matrimony," leading up to a noteworthy "celebrity wedding." Of course, wedding ceremonies reflect the culture that surrounds them so our image-obsessed, selfie-prone, product-placement society has indeed produced some rather hollow, commercial wedding "spectacles."

Now as more states and countries legalize same-sex marriage, the nature of weddings expands --but no one is immune to having a wedding ceremony that leaves people cold. It's a query I often write and speak about: how to return the warmth of intimacy to the wedding celebration no matter its size or location or who is marrying whom. However, grand, star-lit weddings don't mean there's a void of intimacy; Prince William and Kate Middleton had an endearingly intimate ceremony while the whole world was watching. And small, pretty-to-look-at family weddings don't automatically create intimacy. I attended one that was so rushed and brief the bride and groom were a bit robotic and the guests had no chance to settle into their church pews to really be present.

Intimacy comes from within. And that's where rituals are designed to take us: out of our busy, noisy thoughts and into that quiet, sweet-spot of our heart. But if a wedding becomes all about some formula or routine or just having a great party -- missing open-hearted connections and a sense of relatedness -- then no wonder many modern ceremonies have become such a caricature or even a sign of mainstream malaise. And no wonder S. Bryan Lowder asked in his article for Slate: "I'm a gay man who wants to get married. But how do I have a wedding that's not so ... straight?"

As much as Mr. Lowder questions "the LGBT movement's rush to assimilate into society's most conservative institutions at the expense of demanding civil recognition of different ways of loving and being," he may question even more gay couples attempting to copy-cat the matchy-matchy, ho-hum aesthetic of "conventional" weddings. Although acknowledging the appeal of marriage with his partner, he's not advocating a category in the commercial wedding hierarchy called "gay weddings" -- even finding it a bit "skin-crawly" -- but I think he'd agree with a cousin of mine. After reading a draft of my book about wedding rituals and gay couples, my straight-forward cousin (who happens to be gay) answered my query whether the book needed more specific information for same-sex couples: "Personally, I want to take part in the institution of civil marriage. I don't need 'gay only' ideas. Ideas on how to select rituals that apply universally are best for me."

It doesn't seem a survey was needed, but a survey there was by a team from The Knot and the Advocate magazines; its results declared "gay weddings less traditional than straight weddings." It's such a tricky word, "traditional." (Traditions of your heritage? Traditions of a culture that didn't support you? Traditions that Martha Stewart compiled?) Weddings are about relationships -- friends, family, your partner -- so start there. And that's how rituals can help.

Whether you envision something large or small, boisterous or solemn for your wedding, include a quiet, meditative ritual or two that takes you into the depth of your heart: words of a vow, a prayer or a poem; music that stirs your soul and moves you within; perhaps candlelight that softens a harsh-lit world; or a gesture that says "thank you" -- gratitude always soothes edges, especially in family relationships that may need a bit of repair. Include something where, in that moment, you feel the intimacy of this precious rite-of-passage -- this promise to simply be kind.

"Ritual time is different from regular time," wedding historian Carol McD. Wallace explained. During the emotionally heightened time of weddings, rituals can relax you into an inner rhythm where you feel more aware and alive and settled inside your love. Even if your plans are simply a visit to a justice of the peace and dinner for two afterwards at a favorite restaurant, there's a way to tap into that intimate ritual rhythm that connects you with all you hold dear.

"How you be while planning your wedding is how you will be in your marriage," I've advised brides for decades -- and the same applies to all couples. It's an extension of the old phrase, "how you do anything is how you do everything" -- in this case, weddings are the "anything" and marriage/relationship is the "everything."

Just musing here (and I love the irony), but what if same-sex couples become instrumental in bringing intimacy back to weddings? With all the controversial hoopla out there, with all the naysayers and critique-makers, wouldn't it be a hoot if "traditional" mainstream wedding ceremonies were influenced by the weddings of gay couples to be more, well, real and from the heart?