Below: a reflection I wrote for a wedding—dedicated to all those who find the courage to love.
All of us are here today to celebrate love, in particular, the love that enjoins two people to share their lives together for a lifetime. The ways we celebrate are many—the ceremony we hold today is just one. Likewise, the forms love assumes are many as well—the form we celebrate today is also just one.
And this very richness of love—the variety of its expressions and the multiplicity of its manifestations—is testament to the abundance of grace. The divine has many faces, and so does love. And all of that is to increase our chances of experiencing both love and the divine on this earth, given our very individual histories, temperaments, circumstances and callings.
And because love can be abundant, knowing who and what and when and how to choose becomes the challenge. Sometimes, the undertaking is initially easy, as in instances where love arrives or arises with a sudden and despotic force—where one feels overwhelmed by a compulsion unasked for and occasionally even unwanted. In these instances, one is driven to cry, as the poet Rumi did, that:
Love has taken away my practices
and filled me with poetry . . . .
I had to clap and sing.
I used to be respectable and chaste and stable,
but who can stand in this strong wind
and remember those things?
In these cases, it seems that all there is to do is to simply give in: to merely surrender and accept the gift. But this submission is always only the beginning—the beginning of the task of love. Because as the poet Kahlil Gibran warns us:
For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you.
Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.
Hence, if the forms and celebrations of love are diverse, so are its obstacles and challenges. And in some forms of love, the obstacles and challenges are more apparent than others. Yet perhaps the obviousness of a difficulty is a blessing in itself, provoking as it does a heightened awareness and a greater vigilance.
So why then accept a gift that becomes a task? Why even choose the tyranny of love with its sheer impracticality and utter inconvenience?
One possible answer is that: we accept and we choose love because we are called to do so—and responding to this call is our work and our reward. The urgency of the work is what has Mary Oliver implore her readers, that when love comes:
When you hear, a mile
away and still out of sight, the churn of the water
as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the
sharp rocks—when you hear that unmistakable
pounding—when you feel the mist on your mouth
and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls
plunging and steaming—then row, row for your life
And when you row, and row for your life toward it, the reward is a happiness so great that, as the poet Naomi Shihab Nye puts it:
Since there is no place large enough
To contain so much happiness,
You shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
Into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
For the moon, but continues to hold it, and to share it,
And in that way, be known.
And this brings us back to why we are all gathered here today: to celebrate love, to celebrate happiness, to take no credit for a miracle, but to hold it and share it and let it be known.