for the wedding of Aaron Hoffmeister and Mandy Dahlmeier
READING – Pablo Neruda, Sonnet 8
If your eyes were not the color of the moon,
of a day full of clay, and work, and fire,
if even held-in you did not move in agile
grace like the air,
if you were not an amber week,
not the yellow moment
when autumn climbs up through the vines;
if you were not that bread the fragrant
kneads, sprinkling its flour across the sky,
oh, my dearest, I could not love you so! But when I hold you I hold everything that is –
sand, time, the tree of the rain,
everything is alive so that I can be alive:
without moving I can see it all:
in your life I see everything that lives.
It’s intimidating to offer my own words after reading Neruda. And that’s saying something, since most of my public speaking comes after readings from the best-selling book in the history of the world, a set of writings judged by billions of people to be the most important and inspired words there are.
Partly my discomfort in trying to say something more is that Senor Neruda says it so well in 14 short lines. Somehow the universe is crammed in there, but also in a way that’s expressly right for this moment, for gathering here in the “yellow moment when autumn climbs up through the vines,” here at the farm on this day that is about love, and not just a moment of love, not just for the day,
but, indeed, as Pablo reminds us, a celebration of “everything that is,” because this wedding is a glimpse, a microcosm, the Cosmos in a nutshell of your whole relationship, what it’s been in the past and what we expect and pray it will be into years and years to come.
And then, of course, this isn’t only about the two of you, but is about your connection to the world and how your love not only interacts with each other but with all of us, with food systems, with nature, with “sand, time, the tree of the rain…everything that lives.”
So I love getting to read the poem and imagine it all seeping in and holding those words especially for the two of you. It could be worth reading them a couple more times and not trying to say anything myself, not trying to expand on the infinite, to capture the inexpressible.
But, then again, as somebody used to blathering on, or (to say it with a better sense of communication) used to discovering meaning and conveying grace, I’ll resist the temptation to give soneto ocho the only voice.
In fact, as one accustomed to talking about the Bible, I want to add in another immense set of words along with Neruda, not because I’m up to the task of deciphering and discerning and illuminating much about such enormous sentiments, but because this moment invites the biggest, truest, superlative-est perceptions.
So the phrase of scripture I’m hoping it’s okay to throw into the mix comes from what I consider the best chapter, the best bit out of the whole Bible. These few words for you and for today are: “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus.” (Romans 8:39)
This verse occurred to me simply because of the term “separate.” It’s a hard but important term to hold onto at a wedding and in a marriage. It contrasts in some way with Neruda, who noticed that when you hold onto each other, you hold onto everything. He recognizes the magnetic connection. But the Bible verse goes the opposite way, admitting distance.
We talked about this in our marriage prep conversations, how as complete as your relationship feels right now, there’s a risky edge of unreality in that bliss, since you don’t know everything about each other but wonderfully will continue learning and exploring and growing and negotiating and being shaped by each other. Rather than some supreme moment of love, this wedding is actually a little prelude to the symphony. There is distance now, but you’ll be growing closer.
I also was intrigued by the Bible’s word of separation because of your peculiar rhythms. I specifically mean that people typically think of weddings as the beginning of life together. But no sooner are you getting started than Mandy is going to float away for three months down the Mississippi River! That seems important for a notion of separation, along with significance that Aaron is eventually going to chase after you, closing the gap, narrowing the distance, rejoining from the separation.
These pair of enormous life events, the wedding and the river trip, have had me thinking generally about where relationships are apart and what it means to be together. Clearly it’s not just spatial distance. Nor is it fully how time is spent or the kinds of schedules you keep. I’d say there’s a vital aspect in passions and commitments and senses of calling, those core parts of personality and identity. In that way, the canoe trip isn’t really about separation, but is about supporting each other in your cherished values, enabling who each of you really are, to be. You’re going to proclaim these sentiments much more truly and heartfelt and precisely for each other in the great vows you’ve written. So with that, I’ll just say that even though these coming months are a time of being disconnected physically from each other, giving each other room and space, and then chasing after reunion,
in another way let’s notice how these separated river months circle back around to Neruda, with the connection to everything—to the river and seasons and to the health and fitness of girls you’ve never met and toward justice and making this planet a bit more what it should be, meaning in holding onto all of that, you’re conversely holding onto each other.
Having expanded back to the scale of the universe and the scope of poetry, I probably should quit now, but I want to add an addendum about Jesus. I like to figure that by asking for me, you get him as a package deal. After reflecting on separation and togetherness, I have to admit that that Bible verse wasn’t really about separation, since it said, “Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Jesus.”
The final point I want to offer is also embodied in your love for each other, Aaron and Mandy. Just like all of these family and friends gathered around you today, you know that this isn’t only for the good times, for the party, for the sunny moments that feel rich with floral beauty and delicious meals, or for some distant impossible perfection. You know that it’s the imperfect perfection, the simpler quiet times, the two of you sharing a table, the flooded garden hopes. We know it’s for the daily grind of working, for the times of sorrow and struggle, and really needing each other. Love that looked only on the bright side wouldn’t be love at all.
And that’s the point of Jesus, how we know God’s love, not only for the times that we want to call blessed or happy, but in Jesus the embodiment of a God who with us and for us will face hunger and poverty, sickness and estrangement, suffering and death, and yet a life and love that won’t even be stopped then. Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Jesus. And because this isn’t only dreary stuff, also this day’s reminder that the only time we have a story about Jesus and a wedding is when he’s the bartender, making sure the wine doesn’t run out.
That’s a sense of abundance, a celebration of the gifts growing from the earth and nurturing us, the endless love God has for you, and, therefore, that you have for each other, through it all.