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A Buddhist-Christian Wedding
Submitted by Gordon Peerman D.Min on December 6, 2011 - 3:23pm
A vision for a "religiously hyphenated" marriage and shared spiritual journey.
In an article in O Magazine (August 2011), the poet David Whyte wrote: “In the West of Ireland, there are very old, very sacred wells everywhere. The locals call them ‘blessed wells’ or ‘holy wells.’ At them, you find notes to the dead, bits of ribbon, keepsakes that people have left when they've said a prayer for a child or someone who's sick.Often a local church will have a Mass out there once a year. These holy wells are everywhere, and they're part of the local imagination and have been for thousands of years. So to me, a well, a place where the water springs eternal all year round, is a very real, blessed place to stop and think.”
For Hollye Gallion and Bob Palardy, there is not just one but at least two holy wells where the water is springing eternal. They drink from a Christian well and a Buddhist well. This is an interfaith marriage, not because one is a Christian and the other is a Buddhist, but because together they draw from the waters of both wells.
When Hollye and Bob sat down with me to talk about their life together, what Hollye mentioned first was their “shared spiritual journey.” Couples come together for all sorts of reasons, but this is the first couple that I’ve married that has come together to share what my friend John Thatamanil calls a “religiously hyphenated” life, and this service that Hollye and Bob have crafted draws from both Christian and Buddhist elements.
So we begin our pre-marital sessions with meditation, quiet sitting. It’s appropriate and telling that we begin this way because this simple resolve to show up and be where you are is the foundation of Hollye’s and Bob’s life together. To take the one seat, to calm the mind and open the heart, to be here now, and be someplace else later, this is the shared spiritual journey that Hollye and Bob have found calling to them.
In one of our pre-marital sessions, Bob said, “I have confidence to be with Hollye because of my practice.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard a groom say that before. Bob was saying that this Buddhist mindfulness practice, acknowledging what is true, calming the mind and opening the heart, is the container, which already holds their life together.
Tonight we began our meditation, after settling into the body and the breath, with a simple question, “What’s true for me right now? Why am I here?” These questions invite stopping and dropping into what is true, right here and now. Bob and Hollye have been on weeklong retreats together, the healing missions of service with the St. Augustine’s community in Equador and the silent sitting and walking mindfulness meditations at Spirit Rock and St. Mary’s Sewanee.
Tonight they signify that they are going on a little longer retreat—a Life Retreat, together. And David Whyte has words for them. “All intimate relationships—close friendships and good marriages—are based on continued and mutual forgiveness. You will always trespass upon your friend's sensibilities at one time or another, or your spouse's. The only question is, Will you forgive the other person? And more importantly, Will you forgive yourself? We have to deepen our understanding, make ourselves more equal to circumstances, more easy with what we have been given or not given. We must drink from the deep well of things as they are.”
Drinking from the deep well of things as they are. Forgiving each other, forgiving themselves. Already Hollye and Bob do a weekly Buddhist practice that Thich Nhat Hanh calls “Beginning Anew.” Each in turn says to the other, in some detail:
- This is what I appreciate about you.
- This is what I regret having said or done, what I regret having failed to say or do.
- This was a moment when my feeling of anger or sadness or fear was activated.
Tonight I invite Hollye and Bob to add to their Beginning Anew practice, to deepen it in the forgiving way of Jesus and say to each other:
- I ask your forgiveness for this.
- I forgive you for this.
- I forgive myself for this and this and this.
To begin their Life Retreat, Hollye and Bob have chosen to recite what in the Buddhist tradition are known the “refuges and precepts.” A refuge is a place we go for safety, for strengthening, for repair. Historically Buddhists take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. But because these two drink from two wells, they will take refuge in the Buddha and the Christ (the historical Buddha and the historical Jesus, and the Buddha within and the Christ within). They’ll take refuge in the Dharma and the Gospel, the teaching of the Buddha and the teaching of and about Jesus the Christ. And they’ll take refuge in the Sangha and the Church, their primary communities of support and service.
Finally, they’ll take the precepts. These aren’t commandments or rigid rules for life, but a core expression of ethical conduct, which is a starting point for their life together. They undertake these precepts “to the best of their ability.” Which is to say not perfectly, but with a real ongoing intention to honor and keep the promises they make.
So Hollye and Bob, welcome to your Life Retreat together. If you’ll come and stand before me, we’ll formally begin the retreat.