Monday, September 27, 2010

"Dwelling" (Li-Young Lee)

Lilies in the Garden


As though touching her
might make him known to himself,

as though his hand moving
over her body might find who
he is, as though he lay inside her, a country

his hand's traveling uncovered,
as though such a country arose
continually up out of her
to meet his hand's setting forth and setting forth.

And the places on her body have no names.
And she is what's immense about the night.
And their clothes on the floor are arranged
for forgetfulness.

Li-Young Lee, from Book of My Nights: Poems

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sneak Peak: The Ring

Jeff and I are still on the road, on the blazing trail of the Big Fall Wedding Tour 2010! If all goes well, this little tidbit should automatically post, as we head from the beautiful beaches of the Outer Banks towards Greensboro, NC, where my dashing fiancé will introduce me for the first time to my future mother-in-law. Wish me luck!

In the meantime... I know you've all been waiting for it, so here's a sneak peak at what's coming up soon here at Wedding on the Edge:

The Proposal

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Husband and Wife

For hundreds of years, beginning in the 9th Century, vast swaths of English countryside were colonized and controlled by the Norse — farmers and traders and raiders from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. These settlers were generally descendants of the Vikings that had been attacking the English coast. They spoke Old Norse, a language very closely related to the Old English spoken at that time in England. In fact, the languages were so closely related that they were probably more like dialects. So everyone could understand the Norse invaders perfectly when they raided a town, killed the menfolk, seized the homes and land, and forced the women to marry them.

But the collision of related-but-not-quite-the-same dialects was prone to mixing and confusion. Among the Norse, a free man who owned land and cattle was called a bondi (which literally meant "dweller"); and if he had a home, too, he was called a husbondi (from hus = house). Among the English, such a man was called a wer (which is the same root now found in werewolf); but by the 1300s, such was the influence of Norse on English society, the word wer had all but disappeared.

Meanwhile, the English had two words in common use that meant "wife": wif meant "woman" (usually married; of unknown origin), and husbonde (related to the Norse husbondi) meant "mistress of the house". Perhaps understandably, the Norse called their new wives wif and not husbonde. And so the pair husbondi and wif was established.

Oddly enough, by the 1300s, the word husewif ("house"+"wife") — and thus exactly parallel to husbondi — was becoming common. Around 1600, husbondi and husewif had developed shortened forms hubby and hussy. (As is unfortunately common in many languages, the feminine form gradually developed a more derogatory meaning than the masculine.)

Spiritually husband has energies of caretaking, home-making — more specifically, one whose choices and promises bind him to provide a hearthfire. But wife, perhaps counterintuitively, is not a word of servitude, but of force of will, of selfhood, freedom, and prosperity.

Monday, September 20, 2010

"The Coming of Light" (Mark Strand)

Love Altar, detail

The Coming of Light

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow's dust flares into breath.

Mark Strand, from Selected Poems

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Big Fall Wedding Tour: A Preview

This evening, after Jeff drops the kids off back at their mom's house, he and I will be hitting the road in what I have taken to calling the Big Fall Wedding Tour of 2010.

Our planned journey will take us south through Maryland, North Carolina and Georgia as we hop from campsite to campsite, town to town, in one giant loop that lands us back in Pittsburgh just over a week from today. The purpose of the road trip? Well, first and foremost, to introduce me to Jeff's mother and a few other family members, i.e. my future in-laws.

Yes, you read that right. I am engaged to a man who has as yet never introduced me to his mother. We haven't even spoken on the phone — though I have eavesdropped on their conversations once in a while (by accident, of course!). Now, while I wouldn't recommend getting engaged to a person without first meeting his or her family as the wisest of moves, I'm not too worried about this minor oversight. After all, his mother does live quite a long way away and, from what he's told me, she tends to be the solitary type and doesn't much like to travel, either. Not to mention, this will be his second marriage, so, you know, not as big a deal, right? She's already been through the mother-in-lawing process once before, and Jeff has said on many occasions how she has always been very relaxed and supportive of whatever utterly life-altering choices he's made, including getting married the first time. So all in all, I'm feeling pretty relaxed about the prospect of meeting her. Yes of course I want her to like me and all of that, but she managed to get along Jeff's ex-wife well enough while they were married and I'm like a thousand times more awesome than she was (so I've heard — I don't want you to think I'm being immodest or anything, I'm just reporting what I've been told, here). Anyway, from the stories Jeff tells, his mother seems like the kind of person I'll very much enjoy meeting and getting to know, and his aunt (the one in Maryland who we'll be visiting during the beginning of our Big Fall Wedding Tour trip) has read my blog and seems to think I'll make an excellent wife and daughter-in-law.

(Woah. That was weird. "Excellent wife and daughter-in-law." Typing that almost sent me spinning into a bizarro dimension of space-time where I have a bob hairdo and really enjoy embroidery and diet iced tea. Somehow, that doesn't sound like the kind of conclusion I'd expect someone to draw from reading my blog. Maybe "wise and poetic soul" or "devastating intellect underlying a morose sense of inadequacy" or "politically idealistic with a stubborn streak of macabre aesthetic and a lingering need to please" or something like that. But "excellent wife and daughter-in-law"? Well. I guess there's no accounting for taste.)

Anyway. The second purpose of the trip is to explore some possible venues for the wedding ceremony and reception. Since Jeff's family mostly lives down south, while mine mostly lives here in Pennsylvania, we've been exploring the possibility of finding an in-between place that would make traveling a little easier on everyone. No, we haven't set a date or settled on anything final, but we have been doing a great deal of brainstorming on those very topics. I don't want to give anything away just yet, but I will say this: part of the Big Fall Wedding Tour will be spent in an undisclosed location, getting a feel for the season and its fruits, connecting with the spirits of the land, and petitioning the gods for guidance.

O, what? Did you forget this is a Pagan wedding we're talking about here? You thought all this talk of in-laws and ex-wives and blogging was just so mainstream? Not likely! Besides, we take our duties towards this sacred earth quite seriously in this (soon-to-be-a) family, and that includes doing our research into local, sustainable resources for décor and cuisine, as well as asking permission from the land itself and its other denizens before bustling in and taking over. After all, it's only polite.

We'll be talking more about this whole process and the role it plays in our Pagan spirituality in blog posts to come (as well as letting you know how The Introduction turns out). In the meantime, we have our usual round of poems, pictures and word analyses scheduled to post automatically while we're on the road, with hopefully one post by yours truly sometime in the middle of the week. So stay tuned, and wish us luck!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Zen and the Art of Marriage

I sometimes say I was raised Zen, but that's a shorthand for a more complex truth. I was raised by a spiritual but non-religious mother who was profoundly influenced by Zen teachings. She told me some strange things.

Perhaps in Christian households the children hear, again and again, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." But the Zen teachings of my mother took things a step further: "The others are you."

There is, she told me, again and again, no real boundary between reality and illusion. The world of dreams is as real as the waking world, and just as important. And these people we see walking around, these people we talk with and befriend and fall in love with? They are us, and we are them. There is no real separation between us. In a very true sense, the Self is the greatest illusion of all.

The core teaching of Buddhism is that suffering arises from mistaken beliefs about the nature of the world. Belief that you are a being separate from other people; belief that you have an eternal soul; belief that worldly things like money, possessions, health, travel, etc. can make you truly happy, and so on... These beliefs are false, and they lead to suffering. And they must be let go, released, so that you can see things as they are, and become awakened &mdash enlightened.

Which brings me to marriage.

For Buddhism, marriage is sort of beside the point. There are no prohibitions against it, and also no doctrine that encourages it; it's not held to be a sacred or profane thing. It's a matter for culture and secular society. It's barely mentioned at all in the ancient texts.

However, in modern times, and especially among the emerging Western practitioners of Zen, a more nuanced view is emerging. Marriage is coming to be seen as a kind of practice itself &mdash a way in which two souls can act as each other's teachers as they walk the way of release and awakening.

"In an intense emotional relationship like marriage the experience of the self is stretched. When the self and the other get intermingled, it challenges our sense that our identity is fixed, and when we get hurt it makes the illusion of the self very visible. We can have all of these experiences of the self because love and marriage are the intermingling of emptiness and bliss." &mdash Mark Epstein

Marriage is not easy. To bind oneself to another person is no light matter. It can be seen as a spiritual practice, one much more intense than fasting, or going on pilgrimage. It may even be more powerful than committing oneself to a monastery. Like these other spiritual practices, you are voluntarily restricting your freedom of choice, which is, perhaps, the defining Gift of humanity. But it gives unique rewards: the regular practice of engagement with another person, in the closest, most intimate possible way.

"We are impermanent, we are of the dust of the world, beautiful, but passing. We have no special part of us that is separate from this world. And as part of this world, we are spun out of each other and all things, and so dust motes and the stars are all our family. And this, all taken together, is our true nature, wild, extravagant, precious, boundless, always open. ...

In our relationships we need to hold with open hands, understanding that all things are in flux, and nothing remains the same forever. But as we apply this boundlessness, this openness to our seeing each other, and caring for each other, we quickly discover how powerful and transformative it can be." &mdash James Ishmael Ford

One of the core Buddhist teachings of ethics is the Five Precepts, which can be stated this way:

  1. Do not do harm. Promote health.

  2. Do not steal. Be generous.

  3. Do not engage in sexual misconduct. Promote healthy sexual relationships.

  4. Do not lie. Encourage truth-telling and openness.

  5. Do not cloud the soul with intoxication. Promote clarity of mind and heart.

Living according to these five precepts opens the way toward awakening and releasing the false beliefs that cause suffering. In particular, by not harming others, by being generous, by promoting health (sexual and otherwise), telling only the truth, and seeking clarity, you break down barriers between yourself and other people, and thereby begin to expose the illusion of Self.

"As our practice together matures we discover we can't tell when we're trying, when it follows our acts of will, our concentration, and when it just rises from deep within the soil of the earth, as natural as a green shoot in the spring. At that point we are practicing the great way of equanimity, of joyful abiding. Then our spouse is our principle teacher, and our household is the sangha, the community of wisdom." &mdash James Ishmael Ford

What more intense practice of the Five Percepts could there be than marriage? When you awaken in the morning next to someone; and break your fast with them; when you share your morning and evening labors with them, and go out with them into the larger community, and then return in the evening to hearth again with them, and speak of the day with them, and lie down and dream with them &mdash this is joyful abiding, this is loving kindness, this is generosity and truth and healing and clarity, this is engagement, this is the conscious tracing of the intertwining lacework of Self and Other until all illusion of separation is released.

"And as we come to this place of integration, where our joy in each other is our practice, and our practice is the work of the world, then we have fallen into the great way, and our actions with each other are the saving of the world." &mdash James Ishmael Ford

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bride, Groom, Bridegroom

In ancient Proto Indo European society, a young newly-married woman went to live with her husband's family. She was often put to work doing menial chores (perhaps unsurprising in a patrilineal culture) such as cooking and cleaning; and in fact she was called a bru, "cook" (and yes, that word is related to brew and broth.) The young bru married a dghem, a man. (The word dghem comes from the word for "earth", and is the ancestor of Latin homo "man".)

Later, among the Germanic tribes, she was called the bruthiz, and he was a gumaz. Still later, in Old English, she became the bryd (pronounced roughly "brood"), and he was a guma &mdash or more specifically a brydguma, to distinguish him from all those other gumas out there.

With the influence of the Norse and French invasions, vowels and words across English were vastly changed, and by Shakespeare's time bryd had become bride. Meanwhile another word, grome, "young man", had come into common use (no one is sure how or from where), and it became confused with Old English guma and crowded it out. When the dust settled guma was gone, and grome &mdash now changed to groom &mdash had taken its place next to bride (and, incidentally, in the stables, another place young men were often found in those days).

Spiritually bride is a word of fertility and springtime, bursting forth with energy and motion; but like wed, bride ends with D, the sound of doorways, edges, new beginnings. Groom, while just as full of energy and motion, is more concerned with grounded, earthy work, and the manifestation of growth.

Monday, September 13, 2010

"The Fragrant Wood" (Anonymous)


The Fragrant Wood

My hope, my love we will go
Into the woods, scattering dews,
Where we will behold the salmon, and the ousel in its nest
The deer, and the roebuck calling;

The sweetest bird on the branches singing,
The cuckoo on the top of the green hill;
And death shall never find us
In the bosom of the fragrant wood.

An anonymous poem c. 11th century,
from The Book of Celtic Verse: A Treasury of Poetry, Dreams & Visions (edited by John Matthews)

Friday, September 10, 2010

First Glimpses

My relationship with Jeff began online, a correspondence between two bloggers both interested in spirituality, meditation and politics.

This was the very first picture of himself that he ever sent to me......


...and this was the very first flower he ever gave me.

Stargazer Lily

(Yes, that's right, a digital, clip-art stargazer lily.)

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


Five or six thousand years ago, on the Ukrainian steppe, a group of loosely related tribes of horse herders, numbering perhaps fifty thousand people, lived and worked and loved and died, and as they did so they spoke a language that modern linguists call "Proto Indo European". Over the subsequent millennia, these tribes and their domesticated horses — many of which they trained for warfare and agriculture as well as riding — spread across Europe and Asia, creating a far-flung network of trade, culture, and language. One group moved southeast into India, founding the Vedic culture; and there Proto Indo European gradually changed, as languages do, into Sanskrit, and then Hindi and Urdu. Another group moved to Persia, and their language became Iranian. Another group moved to Greece, and another to Italy, and their languages became Greek and Latin (and, eventually, Italian, French, and Spanish). The group spread over the largest area was the Celts: at one time, Celtic languages — ancestors of modern Irish, Welsh, Scots Gaelic, and others — were spoken from the Black Sea to the Atlantic. And one small group moved up into Scandinavia, where their language became Proto Germanic — the ancestor of Norwegian, Swedish, German, Dutch, and English. Today almost half the people in the world speak a language descended from Proto Indo European.

The Proto Indo Europeans had no writing (or if they did, it hasn't been preserved), so there is no direct evidence of their language. But since the 19th century, linguists have been observing the great similarities between Indo European languages. For example, English has wed, while German has Wette "wager", and Old Frisian had weddia "promise", and Gothic had ga-wadjan "betroth", and Lithuanian has vadouti "redeem a pledge", and Old Norse had ve∂ja "wager", and Latin had vadis "post bail", and so on. The meanings and sounds across all these languages were similar enough that coincidence was impossible: some reason had to be sought. The simplest explanation is that all these languages come from a single source (called "Proto Indo European" simply because it was the protolanguage of many of the languages of India and Europe); and moreover, that the source language had a single word from which all these terms for wedding and promising and wagering are descended.

That word, it seems likely, was wadh, meaning "pledge". It may even have been used for weddings (we know that the Proto Indo Europeans had weddings, because they had words for "wife" and "husband"). When some of the Proto Indo Europeans moved to Scandinavia, they took wadh with them, but over time it changed to wadjan. Shortly thereafter, when a large number of Scandinavians embarked on great migrations to the west, south, and east, one group, called the Angles (because they came from the angle of land where Denmark abuts Germany), traveled to England and brought their language with them; and of course we call that language Old English. wadjan became weddian, but it still meant "pledge, promise, marry".

Over the next fifteen hundred years, England was invaded multiple times by the Norse and the French, and the grammar of Old English was changed and its sounds shifted, and weddian's meaning became focused only on marriage, and it became wed. So when we speak of becoming wed, we are not speaking of a party, or of a man and a woman coming together, or of two families joining, or anything other than this simple thing: a promise.

The history of a word can give insight into its meaning, but so can its sounds. Many cultures (ancient and modern) believe in the spiritual power of sounds and letters; the Jewish and Norse are among the most famous. While not all these cultures agree on the meanings of all the sounds, there is often broad agreement; and quite often this is reflected in our words. As in wed: taken together in this order, the sounds of W, E, and D indicate an act of will, a choice, which begins an initiation. It is a decision to step on a path of unmaking and remaking, a path that ends in a change — an opening — a doorway... an edge.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Budget-Friendly Principle

"One day common people, endowed with common sense, are going to get bored with being inhuman or, rather, with being continually dehumanized by wealth. And they will get rid of it, even if philosophers and producers of the superfluous swear that they are wrong." - Alberto Moravia

Budget-FriendlyIt's not hard to understand why a low-budget wedding appeals to so many people as they contemplate marriage. Apart from all the hype about this being "the most important day of your life" (to which I always respond kindly that I certainly hope my life doesn't peak at twenty-eight), the fact is that most weddings are a step towards married life, family life, and all the dreams, plans and future expenses that those things entail.

Certainly there are a few people — by which I mean, mostly, a few women — who have dreamt of a huge, gorgeous wedding with half the town in attendance since they were children swooning over neighborhood boys and practicing signing their names Mrs. Right surrounded by doodles of hearts and flowers. But for many of us these days, the excess of the "Wedding Industrial Complex" — with all its designer gowns and endless remonstrations against the tacky and the trite — has already gotten old and tiresome long before we start thinking about walking down the aisle ourselves.

The WIC knows this, of course. Browse the wedding-themed section of your local bookstore, and you're bound to find at least a dozen books on how to throw an "elegant wedding under $10,00," or even some brave books proclaiming a do-it-yourself guide to a $5,000-or-less wedding complete with homemade favor ideas and tips on how to drive your kitchen-savvy future mother-in-law crazy trying to self-cater a reception for five-hundred guests. There are probably more books on how to throw an inexpensive wedding than on any other single wedding-related topic. Now, I love books, don't get me wrong. But it seems half these suggestions could land you in a deep hole of abandoned attempts at crafts and cooking, not to mention a bit of strife with your bridal party. And besides, spending money to save money never made much sense to me.

So when it came to thinking about finances, Jeff and I sat down and had a simple but serious discussion. It seemed obvious to us that a low-budget wedding was the way to go, for several reasons. The first was that this would be Jeff's second. And like many previously-married men, all those expenses of the forthcoming family life had, well, already come knocking. It wasn't a question of maybe perhaps possibly saving a little money to someday have maybe a kid or two; Jeff already had four of them. Setting money aside for family expenses absolutely had to take priority over any dream of a large, fancy wedding.

I was okay with that. After all, I'm not exactly the large-and-fancy type. Having worked as a waitress for the past five years, I have come to value a certain financial frugality embodied whole-heartedly in the old saying, "The best things in life are free!" You don't get by on a waitress's income by learning how to make your own applesauce and sew your own hippie skirts. You learn to make ends meet by learning how to prioritize: doing without the cable television and the gas-guzzling automobile and the weekly trips to the shopping mall. Especially if it means you have a bit of cash left over to treat yourself to a pint of organic, fair-trade chocolate ice cream after a particularly rough week at work.

That's right — even if the organic, fair-trade chocolate is a bit more expensive than the regular kind! Because we're not talking about miserly greed here, or an asceticism fed by middle-class guilt. We're talking about priorities: an approach to life and wealth that embraces with gratitude the natural, self-giving fecundity of the earth, an approach that affirms the connection between simplicity, prosperity and generosity not only for ourselves but for everyone who shares this world with us.

So that was how Jeff and I decided to approach the wedding budget. A wedding is, after all, a celebration and affirmation of our partnership and our shared values. One of those shared values is a sense of social justice and its expression in competing economic pressures. We share, too, a certain ambivalence towards the role of consumerism in the modern American life, and a dream that we might someday learn to live more generously and compassionately with our fellow human beings. We strive not only to live simply, but to live beautifully and graciously. So we thought, what better way to celebrate our future life together than to plan our wedding with these same principles in mind?

That, at least, is the idea. As we plunge ahead into wedding planning over the next year, we hope to make choices based on a balance between a modest attitude towards spending, and an appreciation for when things are worth the expense. That might mean we do without some of the more "traditional" wedding expenditures (goodbye, custom-designed, hand-calligraphed embossed silk wedding stationary with matching envelopes!). It definitely means we'll have to get creative in our planning, as we find ways to make our limited budget do double- and triple-duty.

When it comes times for the Big Day, though, we hope to craft an experience that will be simple, beautiful — dare I say, elegant? — and most importantly, memorable and full of joy!

Monday, September 06, 2010

"Lilies" (Mary Oliver)



I have been thinking
about living
like the lilies
that blow in the fields.

They rise and fall
in the wedge of the wind,
and have no shelter
from the tongues of the cattle,

and have no closets or cupboards,
and have no legs.
Still I would like to be
as wonderful

as that old idea.
But if I were a lily
I think I would wait all day
for the green face

of the hummingbird
to touch me.
What I mean is,
could I forget myself

even in those feathery fields?
When van Gogh
preached to the poor
of course he wanted to save someone—

most of all himself.
He wasn't a lily,
and wandering through the bright fields
only gave him more ideas

it would take his life to solve.
I think I will always be lonely
in this world, where the cattle
graze like a black and white river—

where the ravishing lilies
melt, without protest, on their tongues—
where the hummingbird, whenever there is a fuss,
just rises and floats away.

Mary Oliver, from New and Selected Poems: Volume One

Friday, September 03, 2010

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Welcome to the Edge...

This blog is about breaking the rules.

Sounds edgy, doesn't it? Maybe even a bit in-your-face devil-may-care not-if-I-see-you-first in an anarcho-pretentious-punk-rock-cynic kinda way. But that's not what we're about. And we're also not about clichés, as in the cliché, "Love breaks all the rules." Because let's face it, half the time we don't even know what that's supposed to mean, and much of the time it just ain't true.

So when we say that this blog is about breaking the rules, we don't mean thumbing our noses at society or reveling in tacky or tactless self-indulgence. Sure there's a place for that — we appreciate a good nose-thumbing as much as the next guy. But what this blog is mostly about is who we are, why we're in love, and how we plan to celebrate that love with our family and friends. See, not so edgy, right?

But we do live life on the edge. Rules of all kinds set boundaries and thresholds, and life brings us face to face with those liminal spaces just beyond the pale. From a place of civilized safety, we gaze out into the wilds. Life is full of edges.

In many ways, that's how marriage feels to us: a new frontier, a new threshold to cross, a new way of life beckoning. We each as individuals, Jeff and I, have our own interior landscapes — the landscapes of our souls, our psyches, our hearts and our heads — and those landscapes have their well-trodden paths and their bustling social centers, but they also have wildernesses of their own, places strange and fey and as yet unexplored. How can two people commit to loving each other for the rest of their lives, when they're still in the process of discovering who they are?

We think it's possible. Love may not always break all the rules, but it has a way of breaking down boundaries, and overcoming distances. Our relationship began as an online correspondence over more than five hundred miles and three years ago. When it started, Jeff was just an older man with a wife and kids. I was just a young woman full of ambition and heartache. Both of us were bloggers, and Druids, with a penchant for antiauthoritarian peacemaking and a bit of tree-hugging on the side. Two years, one divorce and many quiet nights of solitude later, it had hardly occurred to either of us that a bit of romance was just around the next bend. But life is full of edges. Sometimes it's hard to see what might happen next.

Which is another reason for this blog. Jeff and I are not exactly your typical mainstream bride and groom. We are pacifists, feminists and environmentalists. We are Pagans. And we are, as they say kindly, "creative types." We're a couple of weirdos, and we know it. And while this makes us practically perfect for each other — and quite cute as a couple, I like to think — we also know that we have family members and friends out there wondering, "What exactly is a pacifist, feminist, eco-friendly Pagan wedding going to look like, anyway? I'm not going to have to dance naked around a bonfire under a full moon chanting prayers to Gaia, am I?"

This blog is our answer to those uncertainties. (The short answer is, only if you want to!) We hope it will be a way of reassuring our loved ones, and inviting them into these wilder places on the edges of the normal. Let us begin with a picnic basket and a friendly wave. And who knows, maybe it'll provide a bit of inspiration for other couples out there, too, who want to know how they can plan a low-budget, eco-friendly, fringe-faith love-fest of their own.

If this blog project can offer a bit of guidance and hope, and maybe a laugh or a sigh once in a while, it will have served its purpose well.

That's a pretty good way to start a marriage, we think.

Welcome to Wedding on the Edge.