Thoughts from an Irreverent Bridesmaid
You might call me a semi-pro bridesmaid. I’ve soldiered many a wedding day trench, armed with curling iron and fashion tape. I’ve worked triage sewing the torn pieces of a flower girl’s dress back together moments before the procession, prevented emotional breakdowns and calmed jitters, cradled a wedding cake on my lap through every pothole and hairpin turn all the way from an out of town bakery to the reception, and traversed the littered post-celebration fields of venues up and down the state of Indiana. I’ve donned every color of dress, delivered speeches, and, most importantly, ensured no dance floor stood empty on my watch. “Bridesmaid” is a badge of honor I wear proudly.
On these numerous tours of bridal attendant duty, I’ve enjoyed the unique experiences each event offered, though a few elements remain consistent across the board. First, the marvel of so many incredible people choosing me as witness to a landmark moment in their lives is never lost on me. As I watch them walk down the aisle and declare their vows, I can’t help but wonder how I snagged such brilliant friends. Sappy, I know, but true. Second (a personal triumph), each somehow incorporated the song “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” after I accosted them with my Proclaimers enthusiasm over the years. And third, I’ve been blessed with Spirit-filled insights into each couple’s faith that have enriched my own.
My most recent assignment was to a devout Catholic friend’s ceremony. Our sometimes polar opposite practices of the same religion create friction now and then, but ours is an iron-sharpening-iron relationship in the best way. Ultimately we both know we’ll be seated at Christ’s table in Glory, though we may disagree on the seating chart. Entering the sanctuary for rehearsal, it was clear I was the only Protestant present as everyone else knelt, bowed, or crossed themselves. From the moment we traversed the threshold, there hung a palpable sense of reverence. Quaker raised, constant dips and gestures seemed a little overkill to me, but tradition is tradition and I respect that. So I bowed at the tabernacle and cup bearers, following suit the rest of pseudo-Mass as best I could.
As we practiced processing under the gaze of stained-glass saints, though, it became apparent that joy lay behind my Catholic friends’ veneration. It wasn’t just habit or affectation. Bowing at the altar was a relational act connecting them with the God they love. They were quick, almost enthusiastic, about kneeling. They spoke of Mary like a beloved matriarch present in the flesh. Each swing of incense, every touch of the chalice was careful and consecrated.
We still joked and laughed and hugged. The priest and I traded a couple of lighthearted quips. It wasn’t the stiff, serious to-do one might expect. But sitting in the pew in full view of the happy couple, I saw reflected in their faces how much these rites and rituals mean to them. Yes, it was their wedding day, but they were obviously tapped into the greater scheme of Christ and his Church. It touched my heart. I can’t remember the last time I took in such a view at a Friends gathering.
One could describe my church’s culture as irreverent in some ways. Maybe casual is more accurate, but when I consider the awestriking nature of God, his power, authority, and limitlessness, I’m struck by the disparity in our approach to his worship and the spaces in which we worship. Jesus’ sacrifice cancelled the necessity for the external ritualistic approach to God, opening the way for intimate relationship with him instead. Still, he is God, and God deserves the utmost veneration, doesn’t he? Is that what we offer him when we nonchalantly stroll into meeting in our t-shirts and stained jeans despite nicer threads hanging in our closets? When we treat the sanctuary like a personal living room? When we crinkle candy wrappers during service or use open worship for personal updates? I can’t help but wonder if we’ve lost perspective on whose holy presence we’re gathering into each Sunday. None of this is to say Quakers don’t express reverence in other ways or that we don’t practice respect toward our Creator, but I wonder if our casual posture is altogether healthy.
There’s something to be said for a comfortable relationship to church. I liken it to entering the home of a close friend or family member without knocking, helping yourself to the cookie jar, and plopping on their couch like you live there too, because, in a way, you do. And you’d expect the same from them at your house. It’s a sign of intimacy – a lived-in relationship where people share not only their homes, but their selves with one another. That’s what Jesus made possible between us and the Father. It’s what the Holy Spirit makes possible between believers. What a shameful waste not taking advantage of that gift would be. But God is still High God, King of Kings, Master of Life and Death as well as our tender Abba. Surely some aspect of our gatherings should reflect that.
It’s a difficult balance to strike, isn’t it? Our worship so easily errs on the side of legalism and regiment, but equally as easily on the lackadaisical side. I imagine joy rests somewhere in the middle. Passionate worship arises from the place where intimate personal devotion to God meets concerted effort to recognize him in the greater context of who he truly is. Do our average Sunday meetings lead us into that well-rounded spiritual space, not only inviting us into individual communion, but into collective awe of our radical God as well?
In my usual back right corner pew seat, I have to answer no for myself. Maybe somebody in another pew would answer differently. Most spiritual quandaries stem from my own heart’s failings, so I could easily be in the minority on this. But behind the kneeler at Saint Mary’s, I entered worship differently, and it was good. I relished in God’s formal veneration. Standing on stage behind a bride and groom at their Evangelical service put me in a space of commitment-focused worship. The Baptist and Methodist ministers at other weddings led us in laughter-filled, joyful worship equally weighted by the seriousness of making commitments before God. Nondenominational pastors took similarly somber approaches to worship in between lighthearted blessings. After all of these, I processed out of the church feeling uplifted by more than witnessing the launch of a marriage. I left with the sense that God was lauded as he rightly deserves.
I don’t imagine processing into the weekly meeting in a formal gown accessorized with matching bouquet would counterbalance the casual atmosphere; nor would following a convicting post-sermon prayer with the rousing chorus of 500 Miles (although that would be hilarious and I’m absolutely open to giving it a shot). But I am challenged to examine my heart’s posture approaching God’s house of worship and consider what I might be missing due to hollow habits or lack of perspective on God’s true self. I know what it is to be honored, to be chosen as witness to a dearly beloved’s blessing. I want God to experience that same feeling when I enter his earthly gates with thanksgiving. Maybe one day I’ll find the right balance. In the meantime, if any fellow Quakers plan on marrying soon, let me know if you could use an experienced bridesmaid.