How an atheist performs a wedding.

Here is the text of the wedding ceremony I performed last night. I’m honored to have been asked to perform the service and though I was nervous about the sections the bride and groom wanted to improvise, it went off almost perfectly. (I only lost my place in the text once). Special thanks to Luke Sollit of CalTech and Matt Strassler at Rutgers for invaluable advice where my science went wrong. I had to chop a paragraph explaining how quarks are observed because the metaphor broke down when corrected by real physicists! Also very special thanks to Leah and Katie for providing me with a superhero cape, which I wore as my robe of office when performing the ceremony. And of course, thanks to Maura and Keith for asking me to wed them in the first place!

Wedding Ceremony of
Maura Barclay and Keith Creighton

September 26, 2009

Welcome and good afternoon to everyone—please be seated. I would like to remind you to turn off your cell phones if you have not already done so.

Maura and Keith are here today surrounded by friends and chosen family to publicly declare their love for one another and to be joined in marriage. It was my surprise and honor that they asked me to perform their ceremony. Spontaneity is certainly one of their hallmarks. We have all rescued greyhounds and discovered the joy in giving a goofy retired athlete a place to sprawl out and sleep.

After they asked me to perform their service they invited my wife and I over for dinner. We had the privilege of being fed Maura’s goddess soup and Keith toured us through his art and music collection. It is obvious Maura is beautiful, strong, and willful. And like her soup, she is also deeply nurturing and nourishing. She takes what she has, places it just so, at just the right time, and creates a rich, soothing, delicious meal.

The balance we observed is that Keith is a person who takes in the world in a way that many of us don’t. He has a love of music and surrounds himself with original art. He is someone who appreciates the beauty in the everyday, the high and the low, but most of all the process. Keith’s art collection is process-intensive, layer upon layer of hand-applied techniques. Not just like Maura’s soup, but like her relationship to working with the body and mind. That is her art. The art that Keith creates is in thought – words shaping ideas, ideas that evolve into movement. Together and for one another they create a perfect circle of creating, receiving, responding, and appreciation.

The secret of a perfect relationship is two individuals who choose to be with one another. In coupling it’s important to remember that you fell in love with a complete, independent person. Every day you choose to be with that person, and every day you choose to bring something into the relationship. Your relationship grows stronger because of how much you bring into it. It weakens when you take it for granted. There will be difficult days ahead, and in those moments ask yourself, what have I done to recommit myself to this partnership? What else can I bring in to support my partner? When we talk about healing what we mean is growth – new tissue heals old wounds. New positive experiences heal bad ones. New ideas replace old ones. Every day I choose to be with my partner, and every day that commitment is stronger because of the days that preceded it, the willing choice to grow as people, individuals, and as a couple.

Carl Sagan said we’re all stardust, each of us made up mostly of particles that have been processed by stellar furnaces – suns. We are, in a very real sense, made up of tiny, excited particles that are billions of years old and have traveled the universe to be here today.

This universe, this solar system, this planet – the air you breathe into your very bodies is a stunning arrangement of elementary particles. Your existence in this universe is the perfect timing of countless numbers of particles coming together to form You. That you have found each other in that improbable state of vibration and collection of particles is breathtaking in its complexity and perfection of timing.

Like the ideal partner, subatomic particles were known to exist, but we didn’t have a way to find them until only very recently. We realized that in order to figure out what particles were made of, we’d have to smash them together and look at the component parts. In order to understand ourselves, sometimes we have to smash our minds and hearts into smaller bits to study what makes us tick. Sometimes other people smash our hearts and we have to pick up the pieces, studying the fragments to identify why and how it was broken.

In the same way that we have built particle accelerators to smash elements against one another and then study the resulting particles, Maura and Keith have gone into their own laboratories and done their own share of atom smashing in order to understand what they were made of. To identify their component parts and examine what makes them tick. Maura and Keith are their own Hadron collider particle accelerators. They observed themselves and their own behavior, changed their theory about their hearts and minds as necessary, but grew closer to understanding themselves and how they functioned so we could get to this moment, today. Each of them independently realized that in order to understand themselves fully it was necessary to smash themselves into pieces and look at the elementary particles of their constitution. From those pieces they could decide which were of value, which had meaning, which were the elementary substances of their being, and what comprised the standard model of their emotional universe. This would then inform them about the kind of partner they wished to attract. Would they seek a strange quark? A top? How about a charmed one?

The universe functions in a dance of particles attracting and repelling, fusing together, blowing apart, creating bonds of flavors and complimentary elements. Keith and Maura are but one expression of that elegant universe in action. Like a fractal whose smallest part looks like its largest, Keith and Maura embody the glorious nature of the universe, orbiting one another like planets, fusing together like atoms, exploding in passion like a sun.

There is ecstatic joy in this process of discovery. With every new experiment and experience we have the opportunity to learn ever more wondrous things about ourselves. Maura and Keith are joining together to explore this universe together, and open themselves up to the wonder of each other and what they can learn from one another.

Their union was no accident of physics, no random collision or by-product discovery like Silly Putty. They came to find one another with purpose and intention, after careful study, and the all-critical peer review process.

Keith, Maura, time is a human construct – the universe is infinite and doesn’t care about clocks, schedules, or agendas. The universe is in a constant state of rearrangement of particles and waves. So use your uniquely human consciousness and savor this moment in time, take in the love of the people around you, the staggering number of individual particles that have come into alignment for this moment; to celebrate the two of you. It is complex, it is beautiful, it is wondrous, and it is yours.

Maura has asked her friend, Keith, to read from the Book of John.
Keith has asked his brother, Brian, to read from the Book of Pulp.

We’d like to welcome Amelia Spicer to come forward and sing.

Keith and Maura have prepared their own vows.

May we have the rings?

The circle is the symbol of the sun, the earth, of hydrogen – the most basic of elements. It is a wheel that can transport you to new discoveries. The ring is a reminder that you are joining your lives in one unbroken circle. From now on, wherever you go, you will always return to one another.

Keith, place the ring on Maura’s left ring finger and repeat after me:

With this ring, I thee wed.
I promise that from this day forward, you shall not walk alone.
My heart will be your shelter, and my arms will be your home.
May you feel deeply loved, for indeed you are.
I choose to go with you always as your beloved husband.

Maura, place the ring on Keith’s left ring finger and repeat after me:

With this ring, I thee wed.
I promise that from this day forward, you shall not walk alone.
My heart will be your shelter, and my arms will be your home.
May you feel deeply loved, for indeed you are.
I choose to go with you always as your beloved wife.

May you both continue to grow in the light of your partner’s love—that your capacities to give and receive love will expand over time. Maura and Keith, I wish you a full, long and happy life together.

Through the statement of common spirit and the exchange of rings, you have joined yourselves in a shared destiny today. May you both keep this covenant; may the inspiration of this hour remain with you. May you trust each other, trust life and continue to love each other forever.

As witnessed by your family and friends, it is my pleasure to pronounce you Keith, and you, Maura, husband and wife, lovers and friends for life.

You may now kiss!


5 responses to “How an atheist performs a wedding.

  1. Awesome. I may have to ask you to let me borrow from this for some future ceremony I perform.

  2. I’m impressed. (Especially since this is categorized here as post workout thoughts.) Seriously, my son, you ARE a WRITER. And that is the highest praise.

  3. *snif*

    (others may think I am being facetious but YOU know I am actually tearing up)

  4. Hi there! I was wondering if I could use a few parts of your service for a wedding I am doing for friends.

    I loved yours, thanks!

    do get back to me!

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