Recently I was fortunate to speak at two weddings. I thought I would share the texts of the two sermons. Each has been edited to remove personal anecdotes or jokes. Because each of these were given within a short space of time, they contain some similar themes but I hope that posting them both will not be redundant.
As I have reflected on what I might say, a famous poem by E.E. Cummings has repeatedly come to mind. It captures perfectly some of what I want to say today. Cummings writes:
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
How can you not love that final line? But it would be quite different if E.E. Cummings concluded with this: ‘I carry your heart, I carry it in my hands’. This difference would not solely be because the assonance and the para-rhymes which shape the poem would be broken. It would be quite different because the meaning would change drastically.
The word ‘Heart’ is a rich and polysemic symbol. It does not just denote the atriums and ventricles that pump blood around our body. The Heart is a symbol of our feelings, our affections, our pain, and our happiness. The heart is a symbol for the whole of our emotional lives; good and bad.
To carry the heart of another in our hand would be to treat it like an object. Something we own. Something we can give away. Something which, in fact, does not feel.
To carry the heart of another, in the way Cummings describes, that is, to carry it within our hearts, is to allow the life of another to bear on our own. It is to feel joy when they feel joy: it is cry when they cry; to laugh with them when they laugh and to mourn when they mourn. Not only this, there is a sense that when we carry the heart of another in this way that we become one with them. We become inseparable. Thus, in the poem, whatever is done by one is also done by the other. Love of this type forges a new identity through a radical unity of two hearts living for each other.
At the same time this poem suggests that love provides meaning to our lives. Life has, in many ways, the meaning we ascribe to it. Meaning is shared and it is created among people. The act of loving and living to together fashions in-jokes and a shared language. In our family, Beth (my wife) and I share particular ways of speaking. Phrases such as ‘lul-lo’ and ‘much-a-much’ are idiosyncratic expressions of our love for our children. We use them regularly and they repeat these words to us as if they are words fully-laden with meaning; a meaning that would be immediately intelligible to anyone who heard them. They cannot yet see that they are particular to our family and that they are symptomatic of the love we share. To live together and to love each other is to create a language which has its own meaning.
But love does more than this, it also re-appropriates meanings. The moon and the sun – these most familiar of objects – are, in the poem, symbols of the specific love the author shares with his lover. Love takes the familiar and makes it new. You too might have watched Mad Men or listened to Mumford and Sons; but they will not mean quite the same thing to you as they do for me and Beth. In sharing those experiences together we ascribe to them specific and individualized meanings that can never wholly be separated from the experience. Many of us remember songs which make us feel emotional because they remind us so deeply of a lost loved one. For those who know that feeling, we will never be able to hear that song without those feelings returning; they cannot be separated from it. These are probably songs that we might all know and recognise but which become something new because of these feelings we experience as we listen to it.
On this special day, you have promised to each other that would carry their heart. But more than this you have promised that you would carry their heart inside your own.
May this promise be the basis on which your love will grow, like the tree of life, higher than soul can hope or mind can hide.