Sherri and I were married on September 11, 2010. Below is the text of our ceremony, including our marriage vows. I’ve posted it here in case others are curious what a queer Buddhist wedding looks like.
Opening Words from Shinju
William Shakespeare captures the spiritual implications of marriage in his sonnet that begins “let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment.” In the exchange of vows we will be privileged to witness today between our beloved friends, Sherri and Christie, we will each become participants in this marriage of true minds. In every tradition, whether marriage is formalized religiously or secularly, this act of witnessing vows lies at the heart of marriage as a social, community celebration. Our witness is a contract that we enter into with our friends, pledging our support, our wisdom, our faith in the relevance and meaning of vows as a uniquely human and sacred act. Sherri and Christie have written their own vows, expressing to each other and to us a deeply personal, intimate, mysterious response of two hearts entrusting themselves to each other. And while they have created those vows together, when they say them to each other, publically, in front of all of us gathered here today, they not only will be making promises to each other, but asking us all, in large and small ways to not only rejoice in their love for each other, but also to help support them as their community as they begin this journey of growth, challenge and deepening intimacy.
Shakespeare goes on to say “love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, nor bends with the remover to remove.” What beautiful words……what a difficult thing to actually put into practice, as anyone who has been married some length of time knows only too well. And yet, the “ever fixed mark” of the vows that Christie and Sherri have written and the foundation of the ethical precepts of the Buddhist spiritual tradition that they will also exchange will serve to anchor this marriage through all the seasons of their life together, through the joyful times filled with ease and pleasure and the difficult, stormy times when one or both of them are growing beyond their comfort zones.
So without further ado, let us each step fully into our sacred role of witnesses to this marriage ceremony, honoring our friends, Sherri and Christie, with the gift of our presence as they commit themselves to each other within the circle of their love, surrounded by the blessings and devotion of their community.
I Want Both of Us
I want both of us
To start talking about this great love
As if you, I, and the Sun were all married
And living in a tiny room,
Helping each other to cook,
Do the wash,
Weave and sew,
Care for our beautiful
We all leave each morning
To labor on the earth’s field.
No one does not lift a great pack.
I want both of us to start singing like two
About this extraordinary existence
You, I, and God were all married
And living in
Entering the Shell
Love is alive, and someone borne
along by it is more alive than lions
roaring or men in their fierce courage.
Bandits ambush others on the road.
They get wealth, but they stay in one
place. Lovers keep moving, never
the same, not for a second! What
makes others grieve, they enjoy!
When they look angry, don’t believe
their faces. It’s spring lightning,
a joke before the rain. They chew
thorns thoughtfully along with pasture
grass. Gazelle and lioness, having
dinner. Love is invisible except
here, in us. Sometimes I praise love;
sometimes love praises me. Love,
a little shell somewhere on the ocean
floor, opens its mouth. You and I
and we, those imaginary beings, enter
that shell as a single sip of seawater.
The Plum Trees
by Mary Oliver
Such richness flowing
through the branches of summer and into
the body, carried inward on the five
rivers! Disorder and astonishment
rattle your thoughts and your heart
cries for rest but don’t
succumb, there’s nothing
so sensible as sensual inundation. Joy
is a taste before
it’s anything else, and the body
can lounge for hours devouring
the important moments. Listen,
the only way
to tempt happiness into your mind is by taking it
into the body first, like small
Shared Vows (based on the Five Grave Buddhist Precepts)
In the practice of our marriage, I vow to affirm, cherish and protect the lives of all sentient beings.
In the practice of our marriage, I vow to be generous with my time, energy and material resources and to take only what is freely given.
In the practice of our marriage, I vow to be aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct and to cultivate my responsibility to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families and society.
In the practice of our marriage, I vow to manifest truth, to cultivate loving speech and deep listening. I will refrain from using words of discord and will make every attempt to resolve conflict, great and small.
In the practice of our marriage, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.
I will always remember seeing you on the first day of 2008. It was merely the third time I had seen you in person, but in the bright light of early afternoon I suddenly knew with certainty that my life was about to change in a significant way.
So it did, and here we are today in front of friends and relations. All of us gathered to honor the power of publicly taking vows to love, honor and cherish one another. It has been a mad dash to get to this dazzling finish, complete with unexpected news, arguments, wild passion, laughter, and tears. I’m told this is perfectly ordinary even though it feels to me rather extraordinary.
In addition to the precepts, which I have vowed to make a fundamental part of the practice of my marriage with you, I offer these vows from my heart:
- I vow to nurture unbridled joy in equal measure with gravitas.
- I vow to great each day with loving-kindness.
- I vow to nourish my health so that we may explore many more years together.
- I vow to create art, write, sing and cultivate playfulness together with you.
- I vow to admit when I am wrong.
- I vow to offer you cheer, humor, deep listening, and wise counsel. Whenever needed.
- I vow to challenge myself and you so we continue to grow fully into who we can be.
- I vow to read you poetry.
For my birthday last year you gave me a collection of Rumi’s poetry translated by Coleman Barks; an edition I did not have. It had been an amazing day spent celebrating my birthday and you fell asleep early. I stayed awake longer to read poems and enjoy my cake. One poem in particular really caught me; I knew I wanted to say some of the words from it to you at our wedding. Although I feel rather presumptuous playing with Rumi’s words, I do so as an act of love and from a deep honoring of the original poem, “The Self We Share”. These words especially speak to me of you and of this moment when written in this way:
The Prayer of Each
You are the source of my life.
You separate essence from mud.
You honor my soul.
You bring rivers from the mountain springs.
You brighten my eyes.
The wine you offer takes me out of myself into the self we share.
Doing that is religion.
I am a prayer.
You’re the amen.
My dearest Sherri: You are one of the most generous, compassionate and courageous spirits I have ever met. From the beginning, you opened your heart wide to me and while cautious at first, I have learned to take great refuge in your presence.
In addition the precepts we have already shared, I offer a few of my own vows:
Because our life together will not always be easy, I vow to meet challenges in our relationship with a sense of compassion and adventure.
Because our family is but one piece in a very large puzzle. I vow to live a life of service to you, to our marriage and to our community.
Because while love is not scarce, many resources are, I vow to make sure you always have the things you need most such as food, water, shelter and art supplies. I vow to utilize our resources wisely.
Because I want to spend the most amount of time possible with you and grow old together, I vow to care for my body and mind.
Because play is just as important as work, I vow to cultivate playfulness, laughter and lightness in our relationship.
Because what I was hiding, deep inside, you brought out into the light, and even thought it is terrifying at times, I vow to stand bravely in the light of your love.
My dearest Sherri, You are the first person who made me truly feel loved. I look forward to sharing a life of practice with you and I am truly honored that you are making this commitment with me here today, in front of our friends and family.
Exchange of Rings
Rings are an outward and visible symbol of an inner unity and spiritual bond of spacious trust, warm regard and sacred passion. Christie and Sherri will now exchange rings that have been hand-crafted by a local artisan to make their vows visible. The rings please……
Christie, repeat after me……then, Sherri repeat after me:
May our marriage be nurturing, intimate and supportive throughout the years. May our marriage be a refuge to us as we cultivate kindness and compassion toward all sentient beings. I give you this ring as a symbol of my vows and commitment to you with body, speech and mind. In this life, in every situation, in wealth or poverty, in health or sickness, in happiness or difficulty.
You may embrace and seal your marriage with kiss!
Closing words: Blessing of the Marriage
On behalf of Sherri and Christie, thank you all for coming together on this beautiful day to bear witness to this ceremony marking the creation of this marriage. Christie and Sherri will have many challenges to encounter, much joy to enter into, sorrows to bear, love, friendship, and deepening intimacy to share. Now that they are one, may the ethical precepts go before them to guide them, may their spiritual community go behind them to protect them, may their vows go beneath them to secure them, may the spirit of awakening go beside them to befriend them, may they be bound ever closer in love, compassion and skillful living and may that flow between them harmoniously and outwards to the world in peace.