Give me your best NON-RELIGIOUS wedding readings
March 25, 2015 10:26 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a short reading for our wedding that we can ask an athiest friend of ours to read. Other portions of the ceremony will contain religious elements, but we don't want to ask him to read anything that might make him feel uncomfortable or awkward.

I'm thinking a poem or some other short reading on the topic of love/marriage would be perfect, but I'm coming up blank in terms of thinking of something non-cliche. Any suggestions?
posted by rainbowbrite to Writing & Language (28 answers total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
I posted this somewhere else, but this has some great options:
posted by mrmanvir at 10:30 AM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

posted by Flood at 10:33 AM on March 25, 2015

We used:

Scaffolding by Seamus Heaney (thanks MTA posters!)

Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.

and a Selection from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis deBernaieres.

Love is a temporary madness,
it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides.
And when it subsides you have to make a decision.
You have to work out whether your roots have 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 eternal passion.
That is just being "in love" which any fool can do.
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.

These were on the short list:

I Like You by Sandol Stoddard Warburg
A lovely Love Story by Edward Monkton
I Will Be Here by by Steven Curtis Chapman (actually song lyrics)
posted by edbles at 10:36 AM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This is the one we're using:

You have known each other from the first glance of acquaintance
to this point of commitment. At some point, you decided to marry.
From that moment of yes, to this moment of yes, indeed,
you have been making commitments in an informal way.
All of those conversations that were held in a car, or over a meal,
or during long walks – all those conversations that began with,
"When we're married", and continued with "I will" and "you will" and "we will" –
all those late night talks that included "someday" and "somehow" and "maybe" –
and all those promises that are unspoken matters of the heart.
All these common things, and more, are the real process of a wedding.
The symbolic vows that you are about to make
are a way of saying to one another,
"You know all those things that we've promised, and hoped, and dreamed –
well, I meant it all, every word."
Look at one another and remember this moment in time.
Before this moment you have been many things to one another –
acquaintance, friend, companion, lover, dancing partner, even teacher,
for you have learned much from one another these past few years.
Shortly you shall say a few words that will take you across a threshold of life,
and things between you will never quite be the same.
For after today you shall say to the world –
This is my husband. This is my wife.
posted by euphoria066 at 10:39 AM on March 25, 2015 [22 favorites]

I was asked to read Ogden Nash's Tin Wedding Whistle at a friend's wedding. I think it's lovely.

By Ogden Nash

Though you know it anyhow
Listen to me, darling, now,

Proving what I need not prove
How I know I love you, love.

Near and far, near and far,
I am happy where you are;

Likewise I have never larnt
How to be it where you aren't.

Far and wide, far and wide,
I can walk with you beside;

Furthermore, I tell you what,
I sit and sulk where you are not.

Visitors remark my frown
Where you're upstairs and I am down,

Yes, and I'm afraid I pout
When I'm indoors and you are out;

But how contentedly I view
Any room containing you.

In fact I care not where you be,
Just as long as it's with me.

In all your absences I glimpse
Fire and flood and trolls and imps.

Is your train a minute slothful?
I goad the stationmaster wrothful.

When with friends to bridge you drive
I never know if you're alive,

And when you linger late in shops
I long to telephone the cops.

Yet how worth the waiting for,
To see you coming through the door.

Somehow, I can be complacent
Never but with you adjacent.

Near and far, near and far,
I am happy where you are;

Likewise I have never larnt
How to be it where you aren't.

Then grudge me not my fond endeavor,
To hold you in my sight forever;

Let none, not even you, disparage
Such a valid reason for a marriage.
posted by brookeb at 10:43 AM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

I've used John Ciardi's "Most Like an Arch This Marriage," when I've been asked to speak at a wedding, although, in some ways, it would be better from one of the participants.

Most like an arch—an entrance which upholds
and shores the stone-crush up the air like lace.
Mass made idea, and idea held in place.
A lock in time. Inside half-heaven unfolds.

Most like an arch—two weaknesses that lean
into a strength. Two fallings become firm.
Two joined abeyances become a term
naming the fact that teaches fact to mean.

Not quite that? Not much less. World as it is,
what’s strong and separate falters. All I do
at piling stone on stone apart from you
is roofless around nothing. Till we kiss

I am no more than upright and unset.
It is by falling in and in we make
the all-bearing point, for one another’s sake,
in faultless failing, raised by our own weight.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:43 AM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

Yeah, "Union" is pretty killer. There's also "On Marriage" (excerpted from The Prophet) by Kahlil Gibran, "Blessing for a Marriage" by James Dillet Freeman, "Love is Friendship Caught Fire" by Laura Hendricks... or you could kick it old-school with Sonnet 116.

Mazel tov, rainbowbrite!
posted by divined by radio at 10:44 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Walt Whitman
Pablo Neruda
Don't have the exact pieces right now but they will be in almost any wedding readings book/website.
posted by matildaben at 10:49 AM on March 25, 2015

I used "To You," by Frank O'Hara:

What is more beautiful than night
and someone in your arms
that’s what we love about art
it seems to prefer us and stays

if the moon or a gasping candle
sheds a little light or even dark
you become a landscape in a landscape
with rocks and craggy mountains

and valleys full of sweaty ferns
breathing and lifting into the clouds
which have actually come low
as a blanket of aspirations’ blue

for once not a melancholy color
because it is looking back at us
there’s no need for vistas we are one
in the complicated foreground of space

the architects are most courageous
because it stands for all to see
and for a long long time just as
the words “I’ll always love you”

impulsively appear in the dark sky
and we are happy and stick by them
like a couple of painters in neon allowing
the light to glow there over the river
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:53 AM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

Margery Williams, 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."
"I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.
“Someone made me real,” he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."
posted by craven_morhead at 10:58 AM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

John Stuart Mill (describing the outlandish idea that women could be the intellectual equals of men and that marriage is better that way; the rest of the passage, which I omit here, could also be re-interpreted as being in favor of marriage equality if you lean that way):

"What marriage may be in the case of two persons of cultivated faculties, identical in opinions and purposes, between whom there exists that best kind of equality, similarity of powers and capacities with reciprocal superiority in them – so that each can enjoy the luxury of looking up to the other, and can have alternately the pleasure of leading and of being led in the path of development – I will not attempt to describe. To those who can conceive it, there is no need; to those who cannot, it would appear the dream of an enthusiast. But I maintain, with the profoundest conviction, that this, and this only, is the ideal of marriage[..]"
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:58 AM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

From "First Poems," Rainer Maria Rilke (if you and your beloved are introverts):

Understand, I'll slip quietly
Away from the noisy crowd
When I see the pale
Stars rising, blooming over the oaks.
I'll pursue solitary pathways
Through the pale twilit meadows,
With only this one dream:
You come too.
posted by LeeLanded at 11:16 AM on March 25, 2015 [12 favorites]

There are some amazing passages in the Supreme Court cases Loving v. Virginia (the case striking down laws against interracial marriage) and Windsor v. United States (striking down major portions of the Defense of Marriage Act), talking about the importance of the institution of marriage and the role that love plays in the foundation of society.
posted by decathecting at 11:17 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Goodridge v. Dept of Health is another classic.
posted by nat at 11:26 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Comrade Doll and I used this bit from a letter by Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) to his wife-to-be Olivia Langdon:
This 4th of February will be the mightiest day in the history of our lives, the holiest, & the most generous toward us both -- for it makes of two fractional lives a whole; it gives to two purposeless lives a work, & doubles the strength of each whereby to perform it; it gives to two questioning natures a reason for living, & something to live for; it will give a new gladness to the sunshine, a new fragrance to the flowers, a new beauty to the earth, a new mystery to life; & Livy it will give a new revelation to love, a new depth to sorrow, a new impulse to worship. In that day the scales will fall from our eyes & we shall look upon a new world. Speed it!
- September 8, 1869
Well, that and we also quoted the line from the Simpsons' vow renewal ceremony: "For richer or for poorer... and 'for poorer' is underlined."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:26 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

There are some amazing passages in the Supreme Court cases Loving v. Virginia (the case striking down laws against interracial marriage) and Windsor v. United States (striking down major portions of the Defense of Marriage Act), talking about the importance of the institution of marriage and the role that love plays in the foundation of society.

Our (heterosexual, church) wedding featured a reading from Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health, the case that legalized gay marriage in Massachusetts:
Without question, civil marriage enhances the "welfare of the community." It is a "social institution of the highest importance." Civil marriage anchors an ordered society by encouraging stable relationships over transient ones. It is central to the way the Commonwealth identifies individuals, provides for the orderly distribution of property, ensures that children and adults are cared for and supported whenever possible from private rather than public funds, and tracks important epidemiological and demographic data.

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. "It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects." Because it fulfills 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.


It is undoubtedly for these concrete reasons, as well as for its intimately personal significance, that civil marriage has long been termed a "civil right."
Admittedly, both of us are attorneys, so take that recommendation with a grain of salt.
posted by jedicus at 11:30 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

A family friend at one of my cousin's weddings used a portion of Dr. Seuss's Oh, The Places You'll Go! as a reading. It was the only time I've ever heard a wedding reading get applause.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:32 AM on March 25, 2015

Goodrich was actually the decision I was thinking of! Upon re-reading, Windsor is pretty dry.
posted by decathecting at 11:38 AM on March 25, 2015

We used a George Eliot quote:
"What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel they are joined for life – to strengthen each other in all labour, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories."

And a quote from Dinah Maria Craik (often erroneously credited to Eliot):
"Oh, the comfort -- the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person -- having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away."
posted by vunder at 11:52 AM on March 25, 2015 [9 favorites]

Wow, these are amazing.

Previous related: what to say for atheist wedding, May you always find water and shade, and the final blessing from this wedding ceremony question.
posted by kristi at 12:17 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm weird. This may sound stalky but . . . you're getting married, right. Isn't it all about transcendence? Complete atheist here, but the mention of after-life existence didn't bother me. So, we got a friend of mine with no sense of shame and some good chops to read this poem from Edward Abbey's "Earth Apples: Collected Poem".

YES -- even after my death
you shall not escape me
I'll follow you
in the eyes of every hawk,
every falcon, vulture, eagle
that soars in whatever sky
you walk beneath,
all the earth over,
Yes -- and when you die too,
and follow me into that deep
dark burning delicious blue
and become like me --
a kind of bird, a feathered thing --
why, then I'll seek you out
ten thousand feet above the sea;
and far beyond the world's rim
we'll meet and clasp and couple
close to the flaming sun
and scream the joy of our love
into the blaze of death
and burn like angels
down through the stars
past all the suns
to the world's beginning again.
posted by Seamus at 1:33 PM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

I attended a wedding that included a reading of Neil Gaiman's The Day The Saucers Came. Wouldn't have been for me but it was a great success.
posted by mskyle at 1:40 PM on March 25, 2015

We're both atheists and big fans of Scottish music and culture (my husband wore a kilt, I was piped in, etc.) and have a lot of friends who are in the Celtic music community in our hometown. We had one of his sisters read the Burns poem A Red, Red Rose.
posted by immlass at 3:03 PM on March 25, 2015

My wife and I are both atheist. At our (heterosexual) wedding, we had both On Marriage by Khalil Gibran and excerpts from Goodridge. Both were excellent and didn't seem to offend her Catholic relatives. (Admittedly, we didn't mention what Goodridge was about; just that it was an "important marriage case.").
posted by ewiar at 3:24 PM on March 25, 2015

My friend read "The Owl and the Pussycat" at our wedding.
posted by jb at 5:53 PM on March 25, 2015

Another shout out for Shakespeare's Sonnet 116. That was the reading at my atheist wedding. We did the whole traditional vows (richer, poorer, etc.) and I wanted a reading with some historical heft. This is very much a YMMV situation, and a know-your-bride-and-groom situation, but for my money, Shakespeare wins every time.
posted by jeoc at 6:42 PM on March 25, 2015

"Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun, like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now." - Mr. Fred Rogers.
posted by postel's law at 7:35 PM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

A few years ago, I was asked to read an excerpt from Dr. Seuss' "Oh The Placed You'll Go". It brought down the house. Perfect counterpoint to many of the more serious and emotional readings.

When I officiated a non-religious ceremony last December, I made the bride cry with my reading of Sonnet 116. It is really great.
posted by Classic Diner at 8:57 AM on March 26, 2015

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