This is the year of weddings for our family. Nephew Tim and Amanda got it started May 20 in Boise followed by all four of ours, Joel & Laura, and Erin & Amy (forthcoming in September)…the ones who joined our clan by birth, the ones they choose to love and the ones who love them. We humans have been doing it for thousands of years. We gather the community around altars of granite, in a mountain top meadow or beneath a canopy of Big Leaf Maple to honor, revere, and promise to keep the sacred trust we’ve come to call marriage. We enter the time thinking we know what it means and then the drama unfolds and we feel the hair rising on the backs of our necks, tears stream and we are struck by something that makes us shut our mouths.
We tried it again the other day for the wedding of Laura Brook Hartzell and Joel Patrick Pitney. This time we created an altar by the River called Deschutes, River of the Falls. Our families know the Source way upstream in the clear waters of Little Lava Lake. We’ve watched the beavers building lodges there. And ospreys fishing to feed their families. From deep lava springs it gathers itself as we had gathered, from the riffles, rivulets and tributaries that bring it to the place we stood in witness on its way to the Columbia and Pacific.
What makes a place sacred? Where we were sitting with our families, the First Peoples caught red sides (trout) and dug Wapato root to make their living. We stood there with Joel and Laura breathing old air, hearing the rush of ancient water. The source of their love is ancient and old. We can’t wait to see what becomes of the confluence of the watersheds of their lives and the lodges they will build of their lives downstream.
On their invitations Laura and Joel invited us to bring symbols of love and what the day meant from each of our unique relationships. One at a time we presented our symbols and shared the meanings, creating of an empty table an altar in the desert estuary.
We brought a special song and drumsticks and a heart-shaped mac and cheese. We brought a picture album, an empty wine bottle, drinking water, a bowl of cherries. We brought a stack of love letters, recycled paint and a special necklace, the soles of a shoe, a picture drawn in pen, a candle and dirty socks. We brought obsidian, wild flowers and grasses from close by. It was an altar like no other.
The final symbol for the day was a quote from one of our favorite Oregon authors Kathleen Dean Moore. Debbie had chosen it for the occasion and had it framed. In her words, Moore ponders how love for people is all mixed up with love for places and so she writes two lists side-by-side. One is what it means to love a person, the other what it means to love a place. As she worked them out in her experience she found the lists to be the same. This list is what Debbie brought to the altar.
To love a person or a place is:
One. To want to be near it, physically.
Number Two. To want to know everything about it—its story, its moods, what it looks like by moonlight.
Number three. To rejoice in the fact of it.
Number four. To fear its loss, and grieve for its injuries.
Five. To protect it—fiercely, mindlessly, futile and maybe tragically, but to be helpless to do otherwise.
Six. Transformed in its presence—lifted, lighter on your feet, transparent, open to everything beautiful and new.
Number seven. To want to be joined with it, taken in by it, lost in it.
Number eight. To want the best for it.
Number nine. Desperately.
From her book A Pine Island Paradox, we’ve quoted these words for more than a decade, discussed them in courses, preached them in sermons. But, as our children stood by the River of the Falls on a beauteous Oregon day and made their life vows to each other they took on new meaning. The hair on the backs of our necks stood and rejoiced. The smells and colors of that holy space became more brilliant and entrancing.
Kathy Moore couldn’t stop her list at nine. “Loving,” she says, “isn’t just a state of being, it’s a way of acting in the world. Not a sort of bliss. It’s a kind of work, sometimes hard, spirit-testing work.” What was missing?
Number ten. To love a person or a place is to accept moral responsibility for its well-being.
We can’t wait to see the fresh and bold new world that awaits us as we learn to love again, accepting moral responsibility for the most intimate and ecological, the most personal and political realities of our lives together on this Planet. That the promises we keep in our marriages and the promises we keep in our covenant with the River are one.
As Laura and Joel shared the first kiss of their new day, a red side splashed in a riffle upstream, a red-winged blackbird sang her song from a cattail perch in the marsh. On the wings of the evening, a bald eagle soared. Erin’s and Amy’s time is coming on Labor Day. There is hope for all Creation.