I attended a wedding over the weekend with a most moving reception. The father of one of the brides was tasked with welcoming his new daughter-in-law into the family. The father began by declaring that he had “come a long way.” As proof he told us that his daughter had supported this claim. Then he dove into the deep end with these remarks, “I am a rather traditional person, I go to church, I don’t deal with change easily.” There was a pause. Then he continued, “When you find out your daughter is gay it can take a while to get used to this. Some of you here might know what I mean. But over time it becomes a great joy.” Then there came spontaneous and sustained applause. There was a moment.
In church I have been talking about a book by Richard Rohr Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life which chronicles faith formation, starting with the identity we are given by our parents, Sunday School teachers and mentors. Unlike some progressives Rohr is very bullish on this reality, in fact he says we all need it if we are to one day enter a more mature and connectedness to all of God’s creation. As a former prison chaplain Rohr feels that persons without the gift of identity and ritual end up going down destructive paths, filling a void with violence, greed, addiction. My old philosophy professor George Grant used to say that before you can love the other you must first learn how to “love your own”.
This father was grounded in that love. He knew love. Being raised in a family that loved, in a church that loved, in a workplace that loved, this father knew love. But the challenge of moving from the first half to the second half of one’s spiritual life is to understand that this love is not exclusively designed for “our own”. In fact if we stick with our own we begin to lose ground, we miss opportunities to expand, mature, grow and be nurtured beyond the familiar.
Imagine this father not knowing the struggle of people who had been denied love because of a lack of exposure and understanding? The struggle, when truly understood, breeds empathy, deepens one’s heart, connects one to others in a way that sharing an identity cannot. In this journey the father had found a new place, a deeper heart and gained a new family. What was lost has been found.
I confess I was not nearly as eloquent. I was tasked with saying the grace, I was not the presider at the wedding. I was trying to find the right tone, the wedding service was secular and I did not want to impose something onto the crowd of 130. Yet I needed to be authentic to my own experience, the spirit had to match the words. I adapted an old table grace “For food in a world where many are hungry, for friends in a world where many are alone, for faith in a world where many are in fear, we give thanks. Amen.” Instead I said, “For food in a world that has hunger, for friends in a world that lives with loneliness, for the abundant love of this couple (I named them) in a world where people are searching for love…” and then I went weird. Both of the brides had made their entrance on carriages driven by white horses. That alone seemed to have stirred the guests. I kept hearing about the white horses. So at the end of my grace I tacked on, “for white horses in a world filled with…dirty horses we give thanks. Amen.” There was an awkward silence. The MC of the reception said, “Thank you for that succinct grace.” My wife and daughter, sitting next to me whispered, “For a world filled with dirty horses”? I shrugged.
I pray the next time I offer a grace it will be as eloquent, as thoughtful and as honest as the father of the bride. Thank God for food, friends, love, moving words, and yes, white horses.