Philosophy/Religion

B.S. alert. If you’ve come for enlightenment, you’ve come to the wrong place.

self-uniting marriage certificate

A self-uniting marriage license is a relative rarity, available only in a few states in the U.S., including here in Pennsylvania, where some county clerks are reluctant to issue them to anyone other than Quakers, for whom they were originally intended. The courts have ruled, however, that they must be made available to any couple that’s eligible to marry, regardless of religious affiliation — which has created a need for non-Quaker wedding vows to be recited by the bride and groom in a self-uniting ceremony.

Quaker vows typically read: “In the presence of God and these our friends I take thee, ______, to be my husband/wife, promising with Divine assistance to be unto thee a loving and faithful wife/husband so long as we both shall live.” Neither Rachel nor I were comfortable with the mention of God, and the use of the verb “take” did not appeal. To us, the central gesture of a truly egalitarian marriage should be giving, not taking.

Our starting point wasn’t the Quaker formula, however, but a set of Unitarian vows (scroll to the bottom), credited to Rev. Edward Searl, Unitarian Church of Hinsdale, Illinois, found on The Knot. If you compare them, you’ll see that while we made some significant changes, we also borrowed quite a lot. We just really loved the whole bit about respecting the other’s uniqueness and recognizing the limits of knowledge, which appealed equally to our feminist beliefs and our apophatic (cf. “Via Negativa”) instincts. I added the sentence about being the best listener I can because that’s something I do personally need to be mindful of, while Rachel, who is already an excellent listener, felt that a bigger challenge for her, relationship-wise, is patience. We also liked the “till death do us part” bit from traditional vows, re-cast into contemporary English. Our ceremony began with us each reading a poem (me an e.e. cummings thing, she a Shakespeare sonnet), following which we asked my best man (my brother Mark) to flip a coin to determine which of us would read our vows first. Rachel won the toss.

At any rate, if an internet search has brought you here, please feel free to adapt the following vows however you like, and best of luck in your own journey.

[Groom’s name], I acknowledge with the deepest respect your own individuality and uniqueness. I promise to share the full range of my thoughts, emotions, and experiences, but I am also aware that I may share but not know, for in knowing I deny the full person that you are.

I give myself to you to be your wife. I promise to share my hurts, my passions and interests, my sorrows and my joys. I pledge to be as patient as I can. I will comfort you and be comforted, and share with you in all things meaningful to me and to you, until death parts us.

*

[Bride’s name], I acknowledge with the deepest respect your own individuality and uniqueness. I promise to share the full range of my thoughts, emotions, and experiences, but I am also aware that I may share but not know, for in knowing I deny the full person that you are.

I give myself to you to be your husband. I promise to share my hurts, my passions and interests, my sorrows and my joys. I pledge to be the best listener that I can. I will comfort you and be comforted, and share with you in all things meaningful to me and to you, until death parts us.

the wedding kiss

This entry is part 5 of 10 in the series The Laundry Poems

It arrives, as it always does eventually,
that awkward moment in casual
conversation with someone newly
met, that point at which they’ve told
you a bit about themselves, and since
you yourself have not been saying
much, have not volunteered
to introduce yourself more fully,
that awkward moment when the other
party really cannot carry the conversation
on alone, and begins to ask a few
casual questions about you, and then
you have to choose to either ante
up or leave the table…

…but this time, I am given a reprieve
of sorts, by a rip in the fabric
of the universe. Or more
specifically, a rip in the sleeve
of a dress-white shirt that looks quite
new. A young man stands holding up
the offending sleeve. For a moment he
is speechless, then he says: I am
the best man. The wedding is this evening.
I can’t afford another shirt, I don’t
get paid till Thursday. I don’t…

He stops, and before he finds more
words to wrap around the panic-wound,
both the barkeep and myself
are reaching. The barkeep is extracting
money from the till…but I am quicker
on the draw, stand up and drag the bar
stool back a little further from
the bar, hold up a needle
and a spool of thread, and I say:
Give it.

He starts to speak again, and I say:
Go away. The gentleman will page you
when your shirt is ready, and there’s plenty
of time to get it done if you
don’t distract me.

He disappears. The bar disappears, as
does my coffee, and the sounds
of jukebox music, conversation,
all such inputs fade away as
I turn myself inward in preparation
for the magic-making. Needle threaded,
thread pulled smooth, a sleeve
turned inside out. This is inverted
voodoo, this piercing of the broadcloth,
not for harming but for healing.

Invisible stitches, each a tiny
planting hiding along the seam, each one
carrying a wish, a blessing.
Drawing the stitches firmly here,
but not so tightly that they pucker, I
am sowing a white-thread furrow
no one else can see: here I pierce
the soil and plant a seed

— (may this young man
be reassured) and another
–(may he always feel standing up
for a friend is a thing of importance)
— (may he always be in reverent
awe of weddings, and all they represent)
— (may the bride and groom
be likewise)
— (and remain so, in awe of their own
marriage, and all it represents)
— (and if there come children,
may they teach them kindness)
— (for other
people)
— (for all living
beings)
— (may they raise them
to respect all that breathes like we do)
— (and all
that breathes invisibly)
— (may these
stitches carry blessings)
— (may these
stitches carry hope)
— (may these
stitches hold)

(Amen)

The prayer is planted.
I break the thread and turn the sleeve.


Read the previous poems in the series.

Up, and being ready then abroad by coach to White Hall, and there with the Duke, where Mr. Coventry did a second time go to vindicate himself against reports and prove by many testimonies that he brought, that he did nothing but what had been done by the Lord Admiral’s secretaries heretofore, though he do not approve of it, nor since he had any rule from the Duke hath he exceeded what he is there directed to take, and the thing I think is very clear that they always did take and that now he do take less than ever they did heretofore.
Thence away, and Sir G. Carteret did call me to him and discourse with me about my letter yesterday, and did seem to take it unkindly that I should doubt of his satisfaction in the bargain of masts, and did promise me that hereafter whatever he do hear to my prejudice he would tell me before he would believe it, and that this was only Sir W. Batten’s report in this business, which he says he did ever approve of, in which I know he lies.
Thence to my Lord’s lodgings thinking to find Mr. Moore, in order to the sending away my letter of reproof to my Lord, but I do not find him, but contrary do find my Lord come to Court, which I am glad to hear and should be more glad to hear that he do follow his business that I may not have occasion to venture upon his good nature by such a provocation as my letter will be to him.
So by coach home, to the Exchange, where I talked about several businesses with several people, and so home to dinner with my wife, and then in the afternoon to my office, and there late, and in the evening Mr. Hollyard came, and he and I about our great work to look upon my wife’s malady, which he did, and it seems her great conflux of humours, heretofore that did use to swell there, did in breaking leave a hollow which has since gone in further and further; till now it is near three inches deep, but as God will have it do not run into the bodyward, but keeps to the outside of the skin, and so he must be forced to cut it open all along, and which my heart I doubt will not serve for me to see done, and yet she will not have any body else to see it done, no, not her own mayds, and so I must do it, poor wretch, for her. To-morrow night he is to do it.
He being gone, I to my office again a little while, and so home to supper and to bed.

where in the clear hereafter
is the Lord’s lodging

I do not find him in nature or malady
flux or break

God will not keep
to the outside of the skin

forced to open a heart
to see anybody else


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 16 November 1663.

After the Eucharist, the clean
up, every plastic cup consigned
to the trash, pottery chalice
and plate rinsed in the sink.

I take the bread to the butterfly
garden. I tear scraps
of unleavened rounds into crumbs
which I scatter across the ground.

The children delight in pouring
the undrunk but consecrated
wine into the flowers, where it drips
down to the soil below.

I imagine caterpillars drunk
on God’s love made visible
in sacrament, birds pecking
in the dirt, surprised
to find a blessing,
bushes bursting with blooms
in improbable colors.


Inspired by Dave Bonta’s “Inner city” and Luisa A. Igloria’s “What can you do with day old bread?

Lay in bed till 7 o’clock, yet rose with an opinion that it was not 5, and so continued though I heard the clock strike, till noon, and would not believe that it was so late as it truly was. I was hardly ever so mistaken in my life before.
Up and to Sir G. Carteret at his house, and spoke to him about business, but he being in a bad humour I had no mind to stay with him, but walked, drinking my morning draft of whay, by the way, to York House, where the Russia Embassador do lie; and there I saw his people go up and down louseing themselves: they are all in a great hurry, being to be gone the beginning of next week. But that that pleased me best, was the remains of the noble soul of the late Duke of Buckingham appearing in his house, in every place, in the doorcases and the windows.
By and by comes Sir John Hebden, the Russia Resident, to me, and he and I in his coach to White Hall, to Secretary Morrice’s, to see the orders about the Russia hemp that is to be fetched from Archangel for our King, and that being done, to coach again, and he brought me into the City and so I home; and after dinner abroad by water, and met by appointment Mr. Deane in the Temple Church, and he and I over to Mr. Blackbury’s yard, and thence to other places, and after that to a drinking house, in all which places I did so practise and improve my measuring of timber, that I can now do it with great ease and perfection, which do please me mightily.
This fellow Deane is a conceited fellow, and one that means the King a great deal of service, more of disservice to other people that go away with the profits which he cannot make; but, however, I learn much of him, and he is, I perceive, of great use to the King in his place, and so I shall give him all the encouragement I can.
Home by water, and having wrote a letter for my wife to my Lady Sandwich to copy out to send this night’s post, I to the office, and wrote there myself several things, and so home to supper and bed. My mind being troubled to think into what a temper of neglect I have myself flung my wife into by my letting her learn to dance, that it will require time to cure her of, and I fear her going into the country will but make her worse; but only I do hope in the meantime to spend my time well in my office, with more leisure than while she is here.
Hebden, to-day in the coach, did tell me how he is vexed to see things at Court ordered as they are by nobody that attends to business, but every man himself or his pleasures. He cries up my Lord Ashley to be almost the only man that he sees to look after business; and with that ease and mastery, that he wonders at him. He cries out against the King’s dealing so much with goldsmiths, and suffering himself to have his purse kept and commanded by them.
He tells me also with what exact care and order the States of Holland’s stores are kept in their Yards, and every thing managed there by their builders with such husbandry as is not imaginable; which I will endeavour to understand further, if I can by any means learn.

a pinion mistaken
for the remains of an archangel

ought to point
to other places

to drinking away the night
and letting dance cure fear

but we see only a wonder
a kept thing

managed with such husbandry
as is imaginable


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 6 June 1663.

Up betimes, and Creed and I by water to Fleet Street, and my brother not being ready, he and I walked to the New Exchange, and there drank our morning draught of whay, the first I have done this year; but I perceive the lawyers come all in as they go to the Hall, and I believe it is very good.
So to my brother’s, and there I found my aunt James, a poor, religious, well-meaning, good soul, talking of nothing but God Almighty, and that with so much innocence that mightily pleased me. Here was a fellow that said grace so long like a prayer; I believe the fellow is a cunning fellow, and yet I by my brother’s desire did give him a crown, he being in great want, and, it seems, a parson among the fanatiques, and a cozen of my poor aunt’s, whose prayers she told me did do me good among the many good souls that did by my father’s desires pray for me when I was cut of the stone, and which God did hear, which I also in complaisance did own; but, God forgive me, my mind was otherwise. I had a couple of lobsters and some wine for her, and so, she going out of town to-day, and being not willing to come home with me to dinner, I parted and home, where we sat at the office all the morning, and after dinner all the afternoon till night, there at my office getting up the time that I have of late lost by not following my business, but I hope now to settle my mind again very well to my business.
So home, and after supper did wash my feet, and so to bed.

no change in the law
they believe is good

a soul with so much innocence
might pray to a stone

God is forgive me other-
wise

wine and night settle my mind
I wash my feet


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 30 May 1663.

Up betimes and to my office, where we sat also all the morning till noon, and then home to dinner, my father being there but not very well. After dinner in comes Captain Lambert of the Norwich, this day come from Tangier, whom I am glad to see. There came also with him Captain Wager, and afterwards in came Captain Allen to see me, of the Resolution. All staid a pretty while, and so away, and I a while to my office, then abroad into the street with my father, and left him to go to see my aunt Wight and uncle, intending to lie at Tom’s to-night, or my cozen Scott’s, where it seems he has hitherto lain and is most kindly used there. So I home and to my office very late making up my Lord’s navy accounts, wherein I find him to stand debtor 1200l.. So home to supper and to bed.

we sat till noon
but not very well

no apt wager came
the solution stayed way off

in my Zen
here is where I stand


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 11 April 1663.

I envision the room where you spend those
other days, the ones you don’t believe. Does
it hold a sofa, sink-holes straddled by blue
plaid cushions, red lines of Murray of Atholl
tartan diagramming equations from the theory
of relativity?

If it does, invite me.

I would much like to migrate into such
a living room,
perch on the edge of space-time,
compliment the contents of the empty
frames displaying nothing on the wall.


In response to Dave Bonta’s “Believer.” Title drawn from a quotation by Hermann Minkowski.

Once again, we ride the Apocalyptic
Highway, angel voices ringing
in our ears, Johnny Cash on the car
stereo. Unsure of our destination,
we leave the desolate city behind.

Others rely on maps or GPS devices,
but we travel with a different
sort of celestial directions.
We dream each night
and see the markers by day.

We eat the way our grandparents
ate on the road: a loaf
of cinnamon bread, a hunk
of cheese, and a bag of apples.
This food will take us far.

Only when we rest by a stream
do we let ourselves ponder
the future. We soak our feet
and then bandage them. We hurry
on towards what awaits us.


Inspired by Luisa A. Igloria’s “Zip,” Dave Bonta’s “Slumming It” and the Epiphany/flight to Egypt story in the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.

In the early days of my quilting group, we met on a Friday night. We’d bring food and gather after work as the sun started to set. We brought our favorite foods, and we lit candles. We ate a meal and worked on our quilts. It felt very sacramental, in terms of my Lutheran training.

Around Holy Week of 2003, I wrote the following poem, which was later published in the journal Ruminate:

Eucharist

I knead the bread leavened with beer,
stew a lamb shank in a pot of lentils,
prepare a salad of apples, walnuts, and raisins,
sweetened with wine and honey.
No one ever had herbs as bitter as this late season lettuce.

My friends gather at dusk, a motley band
of ragtags, fleeing from the Philistines of academia:
a Marxist, a Hindu, a Wiccan, a Charismatic Catholic,
and me, a lapsed Lutheran longing for liturgy.

Later, having drunk several bottles of wine
with prices that could have paid our grad
school rents, we eat desserts from disparate
cultures and tell our daughters tales from our deviant days.
We agree to meet again.

Gnarled vegetables coaxed from their dark hiding places
transform into a hearty broth.
Fire transubstantiates flour and water into life giving loaves.
Outcasts scavenged from the margins of education
share a meal and memories and begin to mold
a new family, a different covenant.

We have participated in the Paschal mysteries,
not yet comprehending the scope of what we have created.

Armenian lentil soup
a pot of Armenian lentil soup (photo: Dave Bonta, soup: Marcia Bonta)

I was not a lapsed Lutheran (I kept that word because I like the alliteration); on the contrary, I’d been planning a Maundy Thursday meal for my church. I had wanted to create a full Seder meal, the Passover meal Christians traditionally believe was Christ’s last supper. But I didn’t have any assistance, so I decided to do something more simple, a stew of lentils, which would have been a common meal amongst the disciples.

I was not a lapsed Lutheran, but my friends did have that wide diversity of beliefs described in the poem. And those daughters that joined us are now finishing college.

In the poem, I can see the elements of the Seder meal and the imagery of the early church. This actual recipe may not create a meal that’s quite as sublime, but it’s delicious, cheap, and easy. I created the recipe for a cousin who didn’t cook, so I was trying to explain the process along the way.

Lentil Soup

A timing heads up: this soup needs 30-60 minutes to simmer.

The bare minimum of ingredients you’ll need:

12-16 oz. package of lentils
28 oz. can of diced tomatoes (I like Del Monte petite cut) OR 2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes
Pot of water

Nutrition Booster:

Several carrots (3-6), chopped into bite-size pieces (you can use baby carrots, but they’re more expensive). Carrots are SO nutritious and cheap—don’t be afraid to use a lot.

Flavor Boosters:

1 onion, chopped

several cloves of minced garlic (put the cloves through a garlic press or look for jars of minced garlic in your produce department and use a spoonful or two); garlic powder is easier and will work just fine

several Tablespoons of olive oil

herbs: oregano and basil (1-2 Tablespoons of each)

several Tablespoons of brown sugar (or molasses)

several Tablespoons of red wine

several Tablespoons of balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar

Basic Instructions:

Put the onion and oil in a big soup pot. Turn the burner to high or medium high (8 or so on your burner control dial). Stir the onions around in the bottom of the pot until they’re limp and more translucent. Add the garlic and the oregano and basil. Stir another minute or two.

Put all the sliced carrots that you’re going to use in the pot and cover them with water. Turn up the heat of the burner under the pot until the water boils. Let the carrots boil 10-15 minutes. You want tender carrots before you go any further. Spear one, let it cool, and eat it to be sure.

Add the tomatoes and the lentils and all the rest of the flavor boosters that you’re using. Fill the pot the rest of the way with water. Let the pot come to a boil, then turn the heat way down (you want it to simmer just below a boil—you’ll probably want to keep the heat at medium low—at 2-4 on the dial). The lentils probably need a half hour of cooking at this point. If you think about it, give the pot a stir every so often (if not, no big deal).

You can also let this soup simmer away for an hour or longer. Just keep an eye on the liquid level (those lentils will soak it up as they cook!) and add water as necessary.

You could serve this topped with a dollop of sour cream, if you wish. But it’s great plain.

A pot of this soup will easily serve 6-15 people; smaller groups can get several meals out of one pot. And it’s cheap (it will cost you less than $5 to make a whole pot), so when you’re tired of it, throw it out.

Or you can turn it into something else: boil as much liquid out of it as you can. Add chunks of feta cheese to the lentils, along with tomatoes (cherry tomatoes cut in half work well), cucumbers, peppers or whatever veggies you have on hand. Voila! A lentil salad (feel free to serve it on top of greens) or something you can spoon into pita bread.