“You should never take the spotlight off the bride.”
This statement, more than any of the other quips from this hilarious and somewhat terrifying video of two southern ladies discussing wedding etiquette, struck fear in my already anxious heart.
This fear gnawed at me for a day or two before I texted my mom about it. It had occurred to me that she might have had the same discomfort I felt with being the center of attention. As it turns out, she did—she said she probably walked down the aisle too fast, that she doesn’t remember much of the ceremony. It was a relief to know I wasn’t the only bride who had ever been less than thrilled to have a spotlight trained on her for an entire day (not to mention for the engagement and I’m guessing a while after the wedding).
But I decided to dig a little deeper into why the idea of walking down the aisle with everyone turning to look at me gave me heart palpitations that had nothing to do with my fiancé and that felt somehow connect to this idea of smashing the patriarchy. It’s a roundabout journey, but here’s where it took me.
What if I’m not worthy of being the center of such sustained attention?
And this comment, in another post from APW (thank God for them, by the way):
Ever worry that you don’t feel like a bride?
Here is why: you’re not one.
The bride gig lasts for eight to twelve hours.
I have my own issues with feeling worthy of love and attention, but I think there’s something deeper going on here. I don’t think I have ever referred to myself as a “bride”—it simply doesn’t feel like part of my identity. I am a woman, I am a fiancée, and I will be a wife—but defining myself as a “bride” feels like defining myself by what I ate for breakfast today. “Bride” is not who I am, just as “wedding” isn’t “marriage.”
Some of that identity piece is wrapped up in community. As we’ve planned our wedding, I’ve wondered more than once whether we should have just had a small ceremony and essentially eloped. But the reason we did invite family and friends is that these people have been and will continue to be a vital part of our marriage. It has been challenging to balance our desire to plan a wedding that reflects our desires and not just others’ expectations when, although there are parts of our relationship that are ours and ours alone, so much of who we are and what our relationship has become is bound to our sense of community with friends and family.
It makes me think of a conversation I had recently about how Methodists do ordination. We have a long process that involves a residency period where small groups of ordination candidates meet regularly to learn and to support one another. The ordination service is a large worship service where everyone receiving orders that year is ordained in succession.
A friend from a tradition that does individual ordinations commented that it was too bad we didn’t each get our own ceremony. I couldn’t have disagreed more. Nothing in me wanted my own spotlight while I was being told to “Take thou authority” by a bishop. Perhaps the most special part of my ordination was sharing it with friends and colleagues, without whom I would not have gotten there.
You can’t exactly share a wedding with another couple (although, I mean, I guess you could?), but the point still stands that my discomfort with being celebrated alone, though related in some ways to my self-esteem, is tied to my desire to celebrate—and mourn, and laugh, and struggle—with others. I don’t want to be a princess; I want to be part of a kingdom.
James K. A. Smith wrote this in his book You Are What You Love:
Too many weddings are spectacles in which we celebrate your dyadic bliss. We’re there more as spectators than as partners. And in that sense, these weddings are often preludes to the sorts of marriages that follow. When lovers are staring into one another’s eyes, their backs are to the world.
My dad pointed out that a wedding is a unique opportunity to welcome into worship people who don’t often—or ever—experience it. In my work, I am big on participatory worship. Worship is not a consumer good; it is something we all do together. The word liturgy literally means “the work of the people.” And it’s not about us; it’s about God.
Colin’s and my wedding will be ours, not anyone else’s. But at the same time, we will not cut ourselves off from the world in our ceremony or in our marriage. I think that’s what led me to choose the Scripture I did—not any of the typical wedding readings, but these verses from Matthew 25:
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
The mushy-gushy romantic passages aren’t us. Yes, we give each other flowers and cards, gaze into one another’s eyes, and use two spoons for one pint of ice cream. But we met while serving a meal to hungry people in the neighborhood we now call home. We bond over seeking justice and cultivating community. We never want to turn our backs on the world as individuals or as a couple.
So what does this have to do with the patriarchy? Well, it undercuts the notion of the “blushing bride,” young and nubile, placed on a pedestal and gussied up for her new husband. It calls out the fact there is not really a spotlight on the groom except to see how he reacts to the bride (both in his reaction to seeing her on the Big Day, and in the total abdication of responsibility for any part of that Big Day that some people seem to expect of men). It also emphasizes that we are entering into a partnership of equals, and that our relationship’s context is community. It takes the spotlight off the bride, because the spotlight should be on how our relationships, romantic or otherwise, are bringing more compassion, justice, and love to the world.
To those of you coming to our wedding: I hope you’ll come as a partner and not just as a spectator. We’re planning a worship service and a party that, though they will be very “us,” are in many ways designed for you. We’re even going to ask you not to take pictures or use electronic devices during the ceremony because we want you fully present. We’ve got a great photographer capturing images of the day—we want you to relax and participate.