“I am going to tell her stories. I am going to tell our stories. I am going to tell the story of love.” These are my words from the video on the website I brought live on Valentine’s Day this past spring. Although I am writing this story on Sunday morning, July 12, I am only posting it today, July 14, because, today, today is the 25th anniversary of my marriage to Maureen.
As Peter Gabriel sings in his cover of David Bowie’s Heroes, “I can remember. I can remember standing.” I, too, can remember standing, standing at the altar of God at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, Illinois. July 14, 1990. It had been a flurry of pre-wedding activity, from bachelor and bachelorette parties to a rehearsal dinner at Carmen’s Pizza on Friday night and my being dunked in Lake Michigan by my “buddies” and my dad. I knew I was going in the drink no matter what, so my goal was simply to be sure everyone else got wet with me! They did. In Maureen’s case, while getting doughnuts on Saturday morning for her family and friends that were dressing her in white, she locked her keys in the car, with it running (yes, the doughnut thing started early). Fortunately, the police are never far from donuts either, so she quickly waved one down to get back on her way.
For all of this activity, on the afternoon of Saturday, July 14, 1990, an unusually cool day in Chicago, time stood still. As the music played from the organ, I looked down the aisle between the pews to the back door of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, and time stood still. My heart stood still. At the back of that church was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. There wasn’t just a bride dressed in white. It was my bride, and I knew the brightness was not just a reflection of her magnificent white wedding dress. It was the light of love. It was God’s illumination of a sacrament, the sacrament of marriage.
“Sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 857)
Marriage is one of seven sacraments in the tradition of the Episcopal Church. As the Book of Common Prayer said on page 422 of the service, “Christian marriage is a solemn and public covenant between a man and a woman in the presence of God.” In other words, marriage is not something someone else does, it is something that love does. It is a covenant, a promise, just like the covenant of God with humanity revealed to us in every rainbow. The power that comes from marriage is not from the marriage but from the love that it represents. I have written before of the words from 1 Corinthians that are read during the marriage service:
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)
As I think back to that glorious Saturday, time not only stood still, but distance evaporated. There certainly were a lot of pews between the altar and Maureen and her dad as they entered the church, however, I already felt as if she were standing right next to me there at the altar. A few moments later she was, and now we were one in the light, in the presence of God. We exchanged vows of this love and exchanged rings. I still wear Maureen’s wedding ring and engagement ring on my pinky finger, next to my own wedding ring, because as the last line of the blessing of a marriage makes clear, “Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder.” Because of Christ’s resurrection, Maureen and I have still not been separated, because cancer only meant the death of my bride’s body, not her soul nor our love.
There is one little thing that is interesting. I’ve been flipping back and forth through the pages of the sacrament of marriage in the Book of Common Prayer. I’ve even used our more modern online tools and search mechanisms, and I can’t find it. It is not there. You know the part where the priest says you may now kiss the bride! I guess this is not part of the sacrament, however, it was one of the funnier parts of that day at the altar of St. Matthew’s, because for those that know Maureen and I, they know I am not quite as tall as she was. I married up, literally and figuratively. As my best man continually reminds me, when the priest uttered these words, I had to stand on my toes to get high enough to kiss my bride, to have our lips tell each other what our hearts already knew!
As the kids and I celebrate their mom and my anniversary on Tuesday, we will also be celebrating the timelessness of love. Because it is only in this earthly dimension that love has a time dimension. As I wrote in the last installment of the Powdered Donut Manifesto, time stood still when I proposed to Maureen. Time stood still at the altar 25 years ago, and time stood still on September 21, 2014, when Taylor, Kyla and Katelyn stood with Maureen and I at the same altar that Sunday morning during our trip back to Chicago, the month before Maureen’s passing. We all stood at the same altar as Maureen and I my marriage and had our wedding re-blessed. These words were said by Maureen, me and the kids:
We thank you, most gracious God, for consecrating our marriage in Christ’s Name and presence. Lead us further in companionship with each other and with you. Give us grace to live together in love and fidelity, with care for one another. Strengthen us all our days, and bring us to that holy table, where, with those we love, we will feast for ever in our heavenly home; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
However, the most important part of the blessing of our marriage had already happened. Amongst the seven sacraments of the Episcopal Church, baptism and the Eucharist are held out as special spiritual markers in our journey of faith. It wasn’t just our three kids, Taylor, Kyla, and Katelyn that were standing with us. Three sacraments of God, blessed by baptism, were standing with us, at the same altar. Life had come full circle, just like the donuts Maureen bought the morning of our marriage. And, as my son, Taylor, recently recognized, we were standing at the altar on the 21st of September. Powdered donut day didn’t start on October 21, the day of Maureen’s passing; it started a month earlier, when the five of us stood together in the light of our love and the love of God for us. Love and timelessness. Happy anniversary sweetie. I miss you, and I will always love you.