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Whether a scripture passage, poem stanza, or children’s book excerpt, the readings at your nuptials should reflect your style as a couple as well as invite guests to learn more about the love you share with your future spouse. Off-the-radar texts offer just as much heartfelt emotion as the regulars frequenting the podiums at many celebrations. Here are some examples to get you thinking on the prose that tugs at your heartstrings.
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The Book of Ecclesiasticus
While looking for something Biblical to nod to their religious upbringings, but not too religious, grooms Michael and Aaron turned to The Book of Ecclesiasticus to choose a passage. “We liked how this referenced marriage and help fill that religious need,” Michael says.
A loyal friend is a safe shelter: whoever finds one has indeed found a treasure.
A loyal friend is something beyond price, there is no measuring his worth.
A loyal friend is the elixir of life, and those who respect the Lord will find one.
Whoever respects the Lord makes true friends, for as a person is, so is his friend too.
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A couple that mutually loves the theater (and maybe had a first date to a popular show) might opt for something from a musical, like this text that inspired the song “Origin of Love” from Hedwig and the Angry Itch.
Our original human nature was not like it is now. Human beings each had two sets of arms, two sets of legs, and two faces looking in opposite directions. There were three sexes then: one comprised of two men, one made of two women, and a third made of a man and a woman. Due to the power of these original humans, the Gods began to fear that their reign might be threatened. They sought for a way to end the humans’ insolence without destroying them. So Zeus hurled down his lightning bolts and divided the humans in half.
But the Gods—worried that the humans, now alone and losing the will to live, might not survive or multiply—decided on a few repairs.
Instead of heads facing backwards or out, they would rotate our heads back forward. They pulled our skin taut and knotted it at the belly button. And most important they left us with a memory, a longing for our original other half.
Separated, we are but the indenture of a person, and we are always looking for our other half. And when one of us meets our other half, we pass our whole lives together, desiring that we should be melted into one. One person instead of two. And so that after our death there will be one departed soul instead of two. And the reason is that human nature was originally one and we were a whole, and the desire and pursuit of the whole is called Love.
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If you love literature as much as you love your soon-to-be spouse, why not use the love letters of a favorite writer for your ceremony reading? Before his wedding to Olivia "Livy" Langdon, Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) wrote his bride-to-be a note that contained the following sentiments.
A marriage makes of two fractional lives a whole;
It gives two purposeless lives a work,
And doubles the strength of each to perform it.
It gives to two questioning natures a reason for living
And something to live for.
It will give new gladness to the sunshine,
A new fragrance to the flowers, a new beauty to the earth
And a new mystery to life.
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Tony Kushner’s “An Epithalamion”
If you’d like something a little more contemporary, try this Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright’s modern take on the epithalamion, a type of ancient Greek poem recited to the newlywed couple on their wedding night. “We felt that Tony Kushner has such prolific pieces about love—especially for same-sex couples—and we wanted to include his work in the ceremony,” Michael says of picking this reading for his wedding.
Conjunction, assemblage, congress, union:
Life isn’t meant to be lived alone.
A life apart is a desperate fiction.
Life is an intermediate business:
a field of light bordered by love
a sea of desire stretched between shores.
Marriage is the strength of union.
Marriage is the harmonic blend.
Marriage is the elegance of counterpoint.
Marriage is the faultless, fragile logic of ecology:
A reasonable process of give and take
unfolding through cyclical and linear time.
A wedding is the conjoining of systems in which
Neither loses its single splendor and both are completely
transformed. As, for example,
The dawn is the wedding of the Night and the Day,
and is neither, and both,
and is, in itself, the most beautiful time,
abundant artless beauty,
free and careless magnificence.
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Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables”
For those having a nondenominational ceremony or one officiated by an nonordained friend, search for unconventional passages, like those from a favorite book or movie, like this one from Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.
The future belongs to hearts even more than it does to minds. Love, that is the only thing that can occupy and fill eternity. In the infinite, the inexhaustible is requisite. Love participates of the soul itself. It is of the same nature. Like it, it is the divine spark; like it, it is incorruptible, indivisible, imperishable. It is a point of fire that exists within us, which is immortal and infinite, which nothing can confine, and which nothing can extinguish. We feel it burning even to the very marrow of our bones, and we see it beaming in the very depths of heaven … What a grand thing it is to be loved! What a far grander thing it is to love! The heart becomes heroic, by dint of passion. It is no longer composed of anything but what is pure; it no longer rests on anything that is not elevated and great. An unworthy thought can no more germinate in it, than a nettle on a glacier.
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Dr. Suess’s “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”
Dr. Suess narrated your childhood, why not your wedding? One of his most popular books Oh, the Places You’ll Go! will add a playful dose to the program.
Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to great places! You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
You’ll look up and down streets. Look ’em over with care. About some you will say, ‘I don’t choose to go there.’ With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.
And you may not find any you’ll want to go down. In that case, of course, you’ll head straight out of town.
It’s opener there in the wide open air.
Out there things can happen and frequently do to people as brainy and footsy as you.
And when things start to happen, don’t worry. Don’t stew. Just go right along. You’ll start happening too.
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James Kavanaugh’s “To Love Is Not to Possess”
If you’re a poetry buff, skip the sonnets of mainstays Rumi, Shakespeare, and Neruda, and instead search for new odes to love, like this portion from James Kavanaugh’s To Love Is Not to Possess.
To love is not to possess,
To own or imprison,
Nor to lose one's self in another.
Love is to join and separate,
To walk alone and together,
To find a laughing freedom
That lonely isolation does not permit.
It is finally to be able
To be who we really are
No longer clinging in childish dependency
Nor docilely living separate lives in silence,
It is to be perfectly one's self
And perfectly joined in permanent commitment
To another—and to one's inner self.
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Robert Fulghum’s “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”
Lighthearted readings are sure to produce a smile on your face and chuckles from guests. Robert Fulghum’s All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten is no exception.
All of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do, and how to be, I learned in Kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandbox at nursery school.
These are the things I learned…
Don't hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don't take things that aren't yours.
Say sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Give them to someone who feels sad. Live a balanced life.
Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day.
Take a nap every afternoon.
Be aware of wonder.
Remember the little seed in the plastic cup? The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Everything you need to know is in there somewhere.
And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.
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Richard Bach’s “The Bridge Across Forever”
Romantic readings are a delicate balance between sappy and tender, and author Richard Bach marries the two in this portion of The Bridge Across Forever.
A soul mate is someone who has locks that fit our keys, and keys to fit our locks. When we feel safe enough to open the locks, our truest selves step out and we can be completely and honestly who we are; we can be loved for who we are and not for who we’re pretending to be. Each unveils the best part of the other. No matter what else goes wrong around us, with that one person we’re safe in our own paradise. Our soul mate is someone who shares our deepest longings, our sense of direction. When we’re two balloons, and together our direction is up, chances are we’ve found the right person. Our soul mate is the one who makes life come to life.
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On the other hand, some Christian denominations require that all ceremony readings be sourced from the Bible, so consult with your clergyperson before getting your heart set on a Shakespearean soliloquy or rom-com quote. Catholic ceremonies, specifically, require one Old Testament reading, a psalm (that is generally sung), one New Testament reading, and one passage from the Gospels.
For the Old Testament selection, try Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 or Song of Solomon 8:6-7.
“Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)
“Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If one offered for love all the wealth of one’s house, it would be utterly scorned.” (Song of Solomon 8:6-7)
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For the New Testament choice, Corinthians 13:4-8 (think: “Love is patient, love is kind”) is a common choice for Christian ceremonies—and with good reason. Paul’s classic description of love in his first letter to the Corinthians provides the formula for a relationship that’s built to last. Colossians 3:12-17, a lesser-known passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, is equally as impacting, while Romans 12:9-18 also offers sage words.
“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:12-17)
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:9-18)
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