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Last weekend, I attended the BEST wedding. EVER. No joke.
I was dressed up and feeling pretty. My husband thought I was gorgeous. I had two drinks. My kids were at family friends, spoiled rotten, not missing us. The venue overlooked the Boston harbor. The bride and groom are power-house, brilliant, extroverts; they’re friends with fabulous people. The band was a ten. No one could stay off the dance floor. Did I mention I ate three pieces of cake? I helped myself to the uneaten slices at other tables. What a party!
The above reasons made this wedding outstandingly fun. They are why I have not been able to stop thinking about the wedding all week, but they are not the reason this wedding was the best ever. This wedding was the BEST ever because it was a holy celebration. Joy could not be contained. The spirit was present, palpable, as the gathered friends and family of the bride and groom danced, ate, laughed, cried, talked, and even shouted happily over the music. We were bound together in some holy moment, made sacred by the unbridled love the couple declared as they committed their lives to one another.
At one moment the bride and groom left the dance floor to enjoy a well-deserved drink. In the room’s back corner, tucked away, as they awaited their cocktails, they began to dance again, the music calling to them. They had their own dance party. They danced because their joy was too large, too overpowering, to be contained by the dance floor.
The Bible refers to God’s people as dancing in worship. That might be hard to imagine for stiff New Englanders who bristle when there is clapping in church. Yet the Bible records again and again how the Hebrew people would dance around God’s altar. It makes no reference to planned, orderly, coordinated liturgical dance. No, their dancing is spontaneous and joyful, as they “Praise God with dancing and music” (Psalm 149).
Apparently, the Hebrew people of old were so connected to God that they could not sit still in her presence. They danced before him because they could not contain their joy. They danced because their hearts’ overflowed. They danced because gratitude pulsed through them. They danced because . . . why not? Dance is just as appropriate a response to God as falling on our knees.
I went to the BEST wedding ever this weekend because the couple shared their love abundantly, with each other and with their guests. Because their joy could not be contained, so it spread like wild fire on the dance floor. Because their gratitude for life, love, friends, and family was so palpable that everyone’s heart expanded. It was the BEST wedding ever because the couple, although reared as New Englanders, reject creaky formality and embrace exuberance. They embrace joy. They dance.
Joy need not be limited to weddings. It can appear at any moment in our lives. Maybe right now? Can you hear joy knocking on your door? Invite her in, turn up the music and dance. Let loose your gratitude, your joy, your love as you move to the pulse of the universe. Dance like a newly married couple at a wedding, dance like the Hebrews around the altar of God, dance as if the universe was made for joy—because it is.
Oh and by the way . . .
Abby’s Top Ten Joyful Wedding Tips
1) It’s not about you. Yep, that’s right. It’s not about you. It’s not “your” wedding. If you disagree, please have some private part y for yourself. Your wedding is about love. It’s about the abiding and deep blessing love and life-long companionship bring to life. And if you believe, like I do, that God is love, then ultimately weddings are about the mystery of God’s love. If you still don’t believe me please read the above blog again or just stop reading this list.
2) Forget perfection. BORING! No one ever remembers the flowers or the cake or the gift bags or the anything! They remember the way the couple looked at each other. They remember the gathered community. They remember the laughter and tears. Don’t care too much about all the other stuff, especially your makeup.
3) Dance! Read above blog. Dance a lot. Dance without caring how you look. Dance until you’re breathless with laughter.
4) Invite people who love you. As for the rest of the guest list of must invites, do what is best for the least amount of conflict. But make sure on your wedding day you are surrounded by people who love you, who celebrate who you are, and are as committed to your marriage as you are.
5) Money has nothing to do with a fabulous wedding. (But do make sure, if you can, to hire a DJ. See #3) I’ve presided over numerous weddings; some have been lavish, others modest. The joy palpable at a wedding reception I attended in a park sitting on picnic benches was just as abiding as the scenic wedding at an estate I performed for a good friend. Money might make things easier, but it cannot buy love, and only love nurtures joy.
6) Pay just as much attention to your ceremony as your reception. It doesn’t need to be a traditional religious ceremony. Yet it should be an authentic celebration of the love you have discovered in one another. I am always shocked how “officiants” are the last thing on people’s minds. I have the power to make a wedding awful! I have never had any intention of doing such a thing, but it’s funny to me how engaged couples taste wedding cakes, visit venues, but rarely think about their officiant. And one more thing, hire the officiant right for you, not the religious leader your grandmother wants. Your wedding should be an authentic celebration of your decision to spend your life with another.
7) Ignore tradition. IGNORE! If you don’t want a veil, don’t wear one! If you think it’s downright awful that the groom’s parents play no role in the ceremony, have them play a part. Don’t wear a tux. Don’t wear something borrowed, new or blue. Don’t register for gifts. Embrace the traditions you value and create your own. This evidently applies to same gendered couples, who have blown the “traditional” wedding celebration out the water. May I pause and say, thank you! You are re-creating traditions for all of us.
8) If you have money to burn hire The Lisa Love Experience band. And pay your officiant well. I am serious about both, but you’ll still have a joyful wedding if you don’t do either.
9) Have someone take pictures. Really. This would seem like it has nothing to do with joy, but it does. In my mind, pictures, much more than videos, have some rare and mysterious way of capturing a moment for future generations. When I look at my grandmother’s familiar smile in her wedding photo, I know from where I came from. When I look at my father being kissed by his god-mother at his wedding, I know the boy my father was and the man he became. This continuity roots us in love, and as I have said again and again, there can be no joy without love.
10) Above all, remember, there are many more joyful celebrations to come. Your wedding day should not, and cannot be, the only great day of your life. There are more magnificent, joy-filled celebrations to come! More unexpected moments that will leave your heart overflowing with gratitude. More life events that will call you to dance! Enjoy your wedding, but remember, it is just a wedding. There is more life to come!
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.