Inspiration for wedding vows

Inspiration for wedding vows

Writing your own wedding vows is a poignant, modern way to express the uniqueness of your relationship and give voice to the shared values that will form the foundation of your marriage. In English-speaking countries, traditional vows are taken from the Book of Common Prayer used in the Anglican communion and adapted by other denominations. However, some of the vows are particularly dated. The bride’s line to “obey” her husband-to-be is being dropped by many couples, with the Washington Post reporting that 49 percent of people want it banished altogether. In the context of change to a longstanding tradition, this is quite the number (Princess Diana famously omitted the word in her vows, causing a minor scandal, back in 1981.)

Tradition and adaptation

It is common for the traditional vows to be used as a template for modern adaptations. For example, the essence of “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health” is beautifully captured by this bride’s declaration: “I promise to love you in good times and in bad, when life seems easy and when it seems hard, when our love is simple, and when it is an effort.”

However, there are also a growing number of couples who want to radically interpret traditional marriage vows on their own terms, whether for the sake of creating a secular or interfaith commitment ceremony, or to evoke the poetic spirit of a sublime union. In either case, balancing the harmonies of authenticity, commitment, passion, and longevity can be quite the feat in a few short stanzas. Here we offer some inspiration for crafting wedding vows that hint at transcendence yet is grounded in mutual respect and humility.  

Khalil Gibran’s “On Marriage”

Gibran, a poet-mystic, wrote this verse as part of his book The Prophet in the early 1900s. Here, he waxes eloquent about two souls coming together but the importance of retaining each one’s utter uniqueness and nakedness before the transcendent force of life itself.

“Love one another, but make not a bond of love;

“Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.

“Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf;

“Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,

“Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.”

Gibran’s sage counsel offers space for the evolution of the individuals within the marriage and the evolution of the relationship itself. It’s a theme taken up by the Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke, who writes in Letters to a Young Poet that loving another human being is “perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation”.

Both suggest that the true source of longevity in a relationship is the release of the will to control or shape another. Author Andrew Harvey takes it one step further, expanding this love from the private sphere into a gift for the world.

“The seven requirements of love”

Harvey writes in “The seven requirements of love” that equality in marriage “is born out of a profound experience of the sacredness and dignity of the other person’s soul”. It is a love in which both partners cultivate their gifts and wisdom in the alchemical chambers of their heart and their individual solitude. In this vision of an evolutionary relationship, the sacred purpose of marriage is for the benefit of everyone:

“When two lovers come together in this dynamic love consciousness, they create a transformative field of sacred energy, from which both can feed to inspire their work in reality.”

Guardians of solitude

Perhaps the last word to inspire your wedding vows belongs to Rilke, who writes that “a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude”. He sees acceptance of Gibran’s “moving seas between the shores” of two souls as an opportunity for profound growth. “Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them,” Rilke writes. “If they succeed in loving the expanse between them, [it] gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”