What should I read at my sister's wedding?
August 1, 2012 2:15 PM   Subscribe

Looking for suggestions for readings that I can give at my sister's wedding. Specific requirements inside.

So I've been asked to give a reading at my sister's wedding this coming September. The minister has provided me and the other folks who will be doing this (just one other person I think) with a list of possibilities to choose from, but none of them are really doing it for me. I myself am not really up to the task of writing something that I feel would be suitable, so I'd like to hear from some folks about suggestions that might work.

The length of the piece should be about a minute when read, so we're talking a couple paragraphs or maybe one double-spaced page at the most here. I'd like something that suits both my personality and hers, rather than something that looks like it was just chosen out of a list of Stock Wedding Readings, you know? I'm a very nerdy scientific type who is a bit flaky and sort of embarrassingly romantic at heart, and my sister is a bit less nerdy but is a very thoughtful, intelligent person with a wonderful sense of humor and a great head on her shoulders who has really chosen a wonderful guy to marry. They've been together for several years. Both of us are Unitarian Universalists. Neither of us are really into the Bible. In fact, let's just disqualify anything that's taken from scripture.

I'd prefer something contemporary, sans God-talk, humanist, maybe a little on the nerdy/sciencey side but not so much as to make it seem like the reading is all about me, with really beautiful prose and having as its central theme a strong, positive affirmation of the joys of a committed, loving relationship. It's not a toast – it shouldn't be specifically about my sister and her fiance or their love in particular, but rather about couples in general and love in general.

Can anybody toss out some recommendations? I'm very interested to hear what you all come up with.
posted by Scientist to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Have you seen this AskMe?
posted by deanc at 2:20 PM on August 1, 2012

I'm a very nerdy scientific type who is a bit flaky and sort of embarrassingly romantic at heart

What about this?

FWIW, I got that from searching "Carl Sagan wedding reading". Some friends of mine got married this past spring, and they used this same piece. I'm pretty sure the blogger is not the groomsman who gave the reading at my friends' wedding -- the date is pretty wrong for it -- but it's clearly becoming a Thing at the unconventional god-free weddings of sciencey romantic type folks.
posted by Sara C. at 2:24 PM on August 1, 2012

OK, here's a couple of my favorites from literature:

From Margery Williams' The Velveteen Rabbit:

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

Also, from Madeline L'Engle's The Irrational Season:

But ultimately there comes a moment when a decision must be made. Ultimately two people who love each other must ask themselves how much they hope for as their love grows and deepens, and how much risk they are willing to take…It is indeed a fearful gamble…Because it is the nature of love to create, a marriage itself is something which has to be created, so that, together we become a new creature.

To marry is the biggest risk in human relations that a person can take…If we commit ourselves to one person for life this is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather it demands the courage to move into all the risks of freedom, and the risk of love which is permanent; into that love which is not possession, but participation…It takes a lifetime to learn another person…When love is not possession, but participation, then it is part of that co-creation which is our human calling, and which implies such risk that it is often rejected.

If you're more a poetry person, memail me an email address and I'll send you copies of a number of selections.
posted by bearwife at 2:27 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

OK, feedback since I know this is a pretty nebulous question:

Nothing in that AskMe works for me; it's mostly too nerdy for my sister's wedding (though I wouldn't mind some of it at my wedding) and the rest of it is too long, too short, or just doesn't strike the right note for me in terms of being a beautifully-written affirmation of love and commitment rather than a collection of advice or philosophical musings on the nature of life in general.

The L'Engle quotation by bearwife is the closest thing so far (in both threads) but I feel like kicking the reading off with "But ultimately there comes a moment when a decision must be made." is kind of rhetorically harsh and absent an appropriate lead-in I can't see myself reading it that way. It's very close, though!
posted by Scientist at 2:36 PM on August 1, 2012

My uncle read this at my wedding:

Rainer Maria Rilke
From Letter 24, to Emanuel von Bodman
(English translated from German)

Marriage is in some ways a simplification of life’s circumstances, and the joining together of two young people naturally forms a summation of their strength and will; so it is that their existence as a unity seems to stretch further into the future than it did before. Taken on their own, however, these thoughts are not enough to sustain life. Above all, Marriage gives a new purpose and a new seriousness of purpose. It challenges and questions the strength and goodness of both concerned, and poses new and great danger for both.

For me, Marriage is not a question of tearing down and demolishing all walls and partitions in order to create an instantly indivisible union: a good marriage is far more a marriage in which each is appointed the watchman of the other’s solitude. And to appoint your partner to be your guardian in this way is to show the greatest trust which you have to bestow. To make one person out of two is an impossibility: where it appears to be possible, it is merely a restriction and a mutual pact which robs either one side or both of their complete freedom and development. And yet, if one can accept the knowledge that even between the most closely joined souls there still remain distances without end, then a wonderful living-side-by-side can grow provided that both parties learn to love the expanses which divide them. For it is these expanses which make it possible for each to see the other as complete and fully formed against the backdrop of a vast firmament.
posted by Lotto at 2:48 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I thought of that Madeleine L'Engle passage too -- it is from her book The Irrational Season. The version upthread is cobbled together out of a much longer passage that spans several pages, which you can read at Google Books. You might like it better with the part that precedes the quoted text:

I'm asked with increasing frequency, "But why marry?", a question to be taken seriously, especially when it comes from young people who have seen their parents' marriages end in divorce, or in constant bickering and hostility, which is almost worse. The desire to make sure that there is integrity in love, that neither partner wants to use or manipulate the other, is a healthy one. But ultimately there comes a moment when a decision must be made...
posted by Siobhan at 2:51 PM on August 1, 2012

I just got married, so my wife and I have been thinking about this exact question!

A friend of mine used this Woody Guthrie reading at our wedding, which I quite liked:

Charles Darwin: http://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?viewtype=text&itemID=CUL-DAR210.8.2&pageseq=1

-- Antoine De Saint Exupery

“Are you looking for chickens?"
"No," said the little prince. "I am looking for friends. What does
that mean--'tame'?"
"It is an act too often neglected," said the fox. It means to establish ties."
"'To establish ties'?"
"Just that," said the fox. "To me, you are still nothing more than a
little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And
I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To
you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes.
But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be
unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the

"My life is very monotonous," the fox said. "I hunt chickens; men hunt
me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike…
But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life.
I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the
others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours
will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the
grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to
me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But
you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will
be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring
me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in
the wheat."

He seemed to take to me quite as naturally and unbiddenly as I to him;
and when our smoke was over, he pressed his forehead against mind,
clasped me round the waist, and said that henceforth we were married;
meaning in his country’s phrase, that we were bosom friends; he would
gladly die for me, if need should be…
After supper, and another social chat and smoke, we went to our room
together. He made me a present of his embalmed head; took out his
enormous tobacco wallet, and groping under the tobacco, drew out some
thirty dollars in silver; then spreading them on the table, and
mechanically dividing them into two equal portions, pushed one towards
me, and said it was mine.

From "Goodridge Vs. Department of Health" by Massachusetts Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall
Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial, and social benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations....Without question, civil marriage enhances the "welfare of the community." It is a "social institution of the highest importance." ... Marriage also bestows enormous private and social advantages on those who choose to marry. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family.... Because it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life's momentous acts of self-definition.
posted by pombe at 3:13 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

a beautifully-written affirmation of love and commitment

I hear you. I like the idea of picking up more of the section from which the L'Engle quote is taken.

Or, as I tend to feel poetry says it most beautifully, here are three of my favorite wedding poems. You could do TWO readings, you know, one of the L'Engle, and one poem.

Short but gorgeous from George Eliot:

What greater thing is there for two human souls
than to feel that they are joined together to strengthen
each other in all labor, to minister to each other in all sorrow,
to share with each other in all gladness,
to be one with each other in the
silent unspoken memories?

I read Shakespeare's Sonnet 116 at my brother's wedding. I never get tired of it:

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Or here's "Love is a Great Thing" by Thomas a Kempis, minus the sorta stupid last stanza:

Love is a great thing,
a great and thorough good,
By itself it makes that is heavy light;
And it bears evenly all that is uneven.

It carries a burden which is no burden;
it will not be kept back by anything low and mean;
it desires to be free from all worldly affections,
and not to be entangled by any outward prosperity,
or by any adversity subdued.

Love feels no burden,
thinks nothing of trouble,
attempts what is above its strength,
pleads no excuse of impossibility.
It is therefore able to undertake all things,
and it completes many things,
and warrants them to take effect,
where he who does not love would faint and lie down.

Though weary,
it is not tired;
though pressed it is not straitened;
though alarmed,
it is not confounded;
but as a living flame it forces itself upwards and securely passes through all./em>.

posted by bearwife at 3:19 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Some friends gave me this to read at their wedding:
What goes with what - From "Appetite" by Nigel Slater:
Some flavours work together. Other's don't. You can't really argue with the theory that if you like something then it works, but to experiment with marrying flavours, in a trial and error situation like a mad scientist, will not only take forever but will probably lead to some really horrid meals. The easy way is to respect a few basic principles about flavours that work especially well together - what belongs with what - which will at least give you the chance of a decent supper. You can then experiment as and when you feet like it. To put it another way, someone has done some of the work for you. Be thankful. You didn't really want to be the one to find out that anchovies are disgusting with bacon, did you?

Some flavours have a natural affinity for each other. In other words, they flatter each other and make for better eating. Much of what is accepted as being a sound partnership makes good sense but there is also a lot of rubbish talked about what goes with what. I have never agreed, for instance, with the well-known accompaniment for oysters, which some foodies reckon is Tabasco sauce. To my taste buds this is an abomination. The chilli sauce does nothing for the pure. intense seawater flavour of the shellfish. Yet I am convinced that lemon really brings out the flavour of steak, with which many would just as fiercely disagree. Likewise I put Dijon mustard on my lamb yet fail to be moved by the age-old marriage of cherries with duck.

Yet there are certain combinations of ingredients that seem as if they were made for one another. Think tomato and basil, think sausage and mustard, think Parma ham and melon. There are logical explanations for some of these natural pairings, such as the salt in the ham intensifying the flavour of the melon, but others are beyond analysis. It is simply that there is something intrinsically right about them, and there are some flavours and textures that work together so naturally that they defy the meddlings of any creative cook. There are flavours and textures that work together in perfect harmony. A roll-call of all that is good about eating: beef and mustard; lamb and garlic; liver and onions; toast and Marmite; steak and bearnaise sauce; duck and five-spice; chicken and tarragon; strawberries and cream. Then there are those successful contrasts of textures that seem like gifts from God - gravy and mashed potato; egg and chips; ripe Brie and crisp white bread; cold vanilla ice-cream and hot chocolate sauce. Some things are simply meant to be.

posted by rongorongo at 3:25 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

A little left field, but here is one of the readings from my wedding, a lovely love story by edward monkton.

The fierce Dinosaur was trapped inside his cage of ice.
Although it was cold he was happy in there. It was, after all, his cage.
Then along came the Lovely Other Dinosaur.
The Lovely Other Dinosaur melted the Dinosaur’s cage with kind words and loving thoughts.
I like this Dinosaur thought the Lovely Other Dinosaur.
Although he is fierce he is also tender and he is funny.
He is also quite clever though I will not tell him this for now.

I like this Lovely Other Dinosaur, thought the Dinosaur.
She is beautiful and she is different and she smells so nice.
She is also a free spirit which is a quality I much admire in a dinosaur.
But he can be so distant and so peculiar at times, thought the Lovely Other Dinosaur.
He is also overly fond of things.
Are all Dinosaurs so overly fond of things?

But her mind skips from here to there so quickly thought the Dinosaur.
She is also uncommonly keen on shopping.
Are all Lovely Other Dinosaurs so uncommonly keen on shopping?
I will forgive his peculiarity and his concern for things, thought the Lovely Other Dinosaur.
For they are part of what makes him a richly charactered individual.
I will forgive her skipping mind and her fondness for shopping, thought the Dinosaur.

For she fills our life with beautiful thoughts and wonderful surprises. Besides,
I am not unkeen on shopping either.
Now the Dinosaur and the Lovely Other Dinosaur are old.
Look at them.
Together they stand on the hill telling each other stories and feeling the warmth of the sun on their backs.
And that, my friends, is how it is with love.
Let us all be Dinosaurs and Lovely Other Dinosaurs together.
For the sun is warm.
And the world is a beautiful place
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:33 PM on August 1, 2012

OK, just ducking back in one more time, quickly: so far I am really digging the Woody Guthrie blessing that pombe linked to above. If nothing better comes along I will be totally happy to go with that. If people would like to keep putting out suggestions (and I hope they will!) then that right there is a pretty good idea of what I'm looking for – beautiful, uncontroversial, requiring no further context (but from an unimpeachable source), short–and–to–the–point, secular, and 100% positive in sentiment.
posted by Scientist at 3:46 PM on August 1, 2012

We had this at our wedding:

Love is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being "in love" which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Those that truly love, have roots that grow towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.

It's by Louis de Bernières, taken from Captain Corelli's Mandolin, and ever so slightly altered so that it doesn't need the context of the story.
posted by pines at 4:56 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

By Mary Swenson

In love are we made visible
As in a magic bath
are unpeeled
to the sharp pit
so long concealed

With love's alertness
we recognize
the soundless whimper
of the soul
behind the eyes
A shaft opens
and the timid thing
at last leaps to surface
with full-spread wing

The fingertips of love discover
more than the body's smoothness
They uncover a hidden conduit
for the transfusion
of empathies that circumvent
the mind's intrusion

In love we are set free
Objective bone
and flesh no longer insulate us
to ourselves alone
We are released
and flow into each other's cup
Our two frail vials pierced
drink each other up
posted by acm at 7:59 AM on August 2, 2012

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