Going Custom: Writing Our Own Interfaith Ceremony

  
Laura and Zach sitting on a wall with mosaic turtles on either side in the Caribbean and relieving some stress.

Living that Caribbean lifestyle: the perfect stress remedy!

After my latest blog post on finding officiants for our Jewish-Catholic interfaith wedding, I got questions from both friends and fans about what the actual ceremony would look like. We had started a draft but needed to tie up some details, so we weren’t ready to share. I didn’t really think about it much in the past week, because we went to Cancun, Mexico, with my sisters and my parents to celebrate my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary. As much as I love how our wedding is coming together, and as much as I’m excited for us to get married and start our married life together, I cannot emphasize enough how beneficial this time off was. No cell service meant no emails to vendors, no looking online for wedding bands and no Facebook monitoring of friends’ wedding photos and measuring up our plans against theirs. I was barely on my phone all week and it felt amazing.

Brides and grooms, do this for yourselves. Give your partners the opportunity to do this for themselves. You don’t have to go anywhere, but take some time (an afternoon, a day, a weekend) and do something you love with people you love. It really helped me to regain a sense of mindfulness and a desire to be present in the moment and it will continue to help me make sure I don’t miss a moment of this exciting year—or what our wedding is really about: two people starting a new life together; two becoming one.

After this time off, we’re now ready to share the details of our ceremony. This custom wedding ceremony is a beautiful blend of our respective traditions. It was crafted using the years of interfaith experience of our rabbi, Rabbi Bleefeld, and several resources I found. I talked in my last post about using a book by Rabbi Devon A. Lerner: Celebrating Interfaith Marriages: Creating Your Jewish/Christian Ceremony—we borrowed heavily from the suggested ceremony components and order. If you’re not sure where to start, this book will not only give you sample ceremonies, but will also explain the importance of the different components of a wedding ceremony.

I also read blog posts such as this one from InterfaithFamily to get a sense of what others had done. As I’ve alluded to in earlier posts, it was really important for us to have both traditions not only represented but celebrated during our wedding ceremony. We both made compromises and sacrifices on the venue—me on my dream of being married in a Catholic church, and Zach on the familiarity and beauty of being married in his native California (some of our East Coast relatives would not have been able to make the flight). It was important that the wedding ceremony, like the outdoor space, feel like a reflection of us, because we were both in otherwise unfamiliar territory.

Beautiful pottery goblet

Roberta’s beautiful pottery goblet

Our rabbi has done several interfaith weddings and our first meeting with him was a great orientation to all we had to think about in the next year. He offered a suggested ceremony outline and explained the different parts and how he would handle explaining the significance of each to guests—he suggested printing explanations in the program, so we wouldn’t interrupt the flow and beauty of the ceremony with too many teaching moments. We built on that initial outline, got some input from the priest officiating, added some special touches and voila! An interfaith wedding. Here’s what it will look like:

After the procession (where there will be oodles of happy tears), Rabbi Bleefeld will open with a statement remembering Zach’s mother Roberta, who passed away four years ago from breast cancer and my grandfather Tom, who lost his battle with bone marrow cancer a year ago. These people were so important to us and we will miss them so much on our special day. We want everyone to know that we feel their absence on this momentous occasion.

In explaining the subsequent different components of the ceremony, the insight we got from Rabbi Bleefeld and Fr. Mike was consistent: The consenting and the vows is paramount in a Catholic wedding ceremony, while the exchange of rings is the high point of a Jewish ceremony. To that end, we’re asking my mother and Zach’s aunt to read from the New and Old Testament, respectively, to introduce each of those components. We’re getting the dads involved too—they’ll say the Seven Blessings, alternating in Hebrew (Zach’s dad) and English (my dad). We’ll mark the last blessing by drinking a cup of wine from a goblet that Roberta made for Zach, one of the many uniquely beautiful pieces of hers that we have in our home. My godparents will then read the General Intercessions, which are not required in a Catholic ceremony, but Zach says they’re his favorite part of the Catholic mass. (You can find an explanation for this part of the mass here, at paragraph 69. It is also called the Prayer of the Faithful or the Universal Prayer.) We’re writing our own prayer that reflects our hopes and values, as well as our desire for health and happiness as we start our marriage surrounded by the family and friends we love. 

Zach with Laura's parents and sisters in Xcaret, Mexico.

Zach with my parents and sisters in Xcaret, Mexico

Throughout the service, we sought opportunities to involve our parents and close family in the wedding ceremony because these individuals helped us form our sense of faith, tradition and family. It was important to us that they be intimately involved in the ceremony that would mark the start of our own new family with its own faith tradition.

I’m adding an outline of the ceremony below, for those who would like more details.

Our Wedding Ceremony

Procession

Remembrance Statement – Rabbi Bleefeld

Opening words of welcome and blessing – Fr. Mike and Rabbi Bleefeld

New Testament Reading – Mother of the Bride

Introduction to and recitation of vows – Fr. Mike

Old Testament Reading – Aunt of the Groom

Introduction to and exchange of rings – Rabbi Bleefeld

7 Blessings – Dads, alternating in Hebrew and English

General Intercessions – Godparents of the Bride

Pronouncement and Marriage blessing (Hebrew and English) – Rabbi Bleefeld and Fr. Mike

Stepping on glass – Rabbi Bleefeld

Kiss and Processional

The Day is Almost Here!

  
Wedding invitation

The front of Emily and Jose’s handmade wedding invitation

With days left until my wedding, I started reflecting on the planning process and how my life has changed in the year since we got engaged. Many changes large and small, good and bad, have defined my last year, and I have grown from it all. Most important, I am going into the wedding day with a new perspective on happiness and an eagerness to celebrate that joy with my best friend.

Happiness is not always some grand gesture, and it is not about being positive all the time. It is not about having only good things happen to you. The bad things that happened in my life taught me that happiness is in the subtleties. It is smiling at a stranger on the street and having them smile back. It is noticing how bright the sky is. It is watching the beads of water that collect on your partner’s skin in the shower, the tiny twitch above his eyebrow when he is thinking and the edge of his dimple curl as he tells a joke to cheer you up.

Happiness is finding balance. It is going to the edge of your comfort zone, balancing there, and trying not to fall long enough for that to become your new equilibrium. After all, that is what I teach my yoga students, so why can’t it be a life philosophy, too? To find your balance, you do not hold your breath and stay still. You breathe, you adjust, you waiver, and you may even fall. But the fall lets you know definitively where the edge of your balance is, and that is often a quicker and more poignant lesson than standing still.

In the spirit of learning and growing, I’m going to share my insight on my own Wedding Planning Process. I’m debating whether to even type this, but I think it may be funny for folks to read, and it may even be comforting. When we are in a good place, we often gloss over the bad, but I want to share my comedic take on where I have been with wedding planning the last year, because it has not all been pretty! I have gone through three distinct phases:

Stage 1 – Lust

This was my “Everything is Perfect” phase. Ohmigod we just got engaged, we are so happy, we are perfect together, I’m on top of the world! Ahh!!!! My face hurts from smiling! Oh you want to hear my proposal story? GLADLY!  But sit down, it’ll take me 30 minutes, because I want to tell every single detail. I was the Blushing Bride, and I thrived off of how happy it made me and the people around me. Throw a wedding contest into the mix that we won, and this lust stage lasted far longer than it may have otherwise. I was on cloud nine and nothing could bring me down.

Stage 2 – Screw This

This was my “Everything Sucks” phase. It was impossible to be the Blushing Bride forever. The bubble had to burst, and life helped it burst by adding some extra crap into the mix. Lots of extra crap. Thanks Life, now I am the Depressed Bride. (Really.) Oh I’m supposed to plan all these tiny details I care nothing about? Great, well I don’t care anyway. That makes it better to not care, right? I’ll go through the motions, or I’ll procrastinate and nothing will get done. Ugh, that just made it even worse. I could have avoided going to the opposite extreme of the lust stage, but I do think a lot of people in my shoes would have done the same.

Stage 3 – Let’s Do This

This is my “Everything Just Is” phase, and by that, I mean that it is perfect to us. Everything just is, for better or worse. Everything is how it is for a reason, and I accept and am grateful for that. Accepting the good with the bad, both in the wedding planning, in myself and in Jose, and knowing the decisions that were made will be amazing. That turned everything around for me. Maybe others would not struggle with oscillating between extremes in the way that I did, but that is part of what makes me who I am. That is why I devote extra attention to incorporating a daily mindfulness practice to stay balanced. Our best teachers in life often struggle from the problems they try to fix, and I hope that my personal experience working to stay balanced can inspire and lead others.

I am working hard to be the Balanced Bride and it feels great. I am eagerly anticipating the wedding day and the happiness I will feel looking into Jose’s eyes. My engagement photos already showed me how happy I can be while some not-so-happy things were going on. There are things that will give Jose and I heavy hearts on our wedding day, but we must remember to feel grateful for the good things we do have in life. I can’t wait until I get to marry my best friend!

invitation suppliesBeing this reflective in this third stage, I am incredibly proud of myself for accomplishing the feat of making my own invitations from scratch while I was in the second stage. I started the project to prove something to myself, and I surely did. While I wish that I did the project not to counter the crap going on in my life but to be fully devoted to the project, I no longer look at it that way. I proved to myself that I could learn an entirely new skill—making a wedding invitation.

I ordered paper online after careful research, did meticulous math to figure out the right sizes for making a tri-fold folder enclosure, invitation and additional inserts, and designed and printed the invitation and inserts with the help of my graphic designer friend. I cut, scored, folded, taped, corner rounded, aligned, belly banded and sealed all the invitations from scratch. I even took them to be hand stamped at the original Philadelphia post office (great call if you are deciding between that and regular mail). I pushed myself to do everything and I am grateful that I did. If you want any tips on how to make invitations, please ask! I don’t want to bore everyone with the details here.

making the invitationsBottom line is, remember in an earlier post where I wondered whether I could make the invitations from scratch or whether it would be a DIY disaster? Well it was far from a disaster, and the fact that most people did not even know they were handmade was the best part for me. Thanks guys!

But I would be remiss not to mention this for future brides: What seems fun doing one or two is not as fun when you do 100. Be prepared for blood, sweat and tears. (Really.) I did have an army of helpers on hand. Thank you to all of the family and friends who helped. You saved me from pulling my hair out and I could not have done it without you.

Here are some more photos of the process. If I ever decide to open at Etsy shop for invitations, at least I have all the supplies now! (But that will never happen.)

assembling invite

wedding invitations

addressed invitation

handstamped invitation

The Mindful Bride

  
Engagement shoot

Emily and Jose at their engagement shoot in Philadelphia

Jose and I have recently incorporated a new practice into our lives to help prepare for our marriage. We have a daily mindfulness practice that helps us stop and appreciate each other and what we have. We take time to communicate what we are grateful for—both the good and bad things that happen in life—because all of that helps us evolve together. We practice being grateful for the present moment and appreciating the time we have together.

We recently had our engagement photo shoot, and it was amazing. To spend an hour looking into Jose’s eyes, hugging and kissing him, was exactly what I needed to take my mind off things. I am grateful for the photos, since I can always look back on them and remember the wild ride that wedding planning has been, and the fact that in the midst of it all we look truly happy. The photos captured our love in a way that I can never put into words (and believe me, I am trying to find the words as I attempt to write my own vows), but it is evident in the way we look at each other and in our smiles.

I have always kept a journal, and I recently read a journal entry of mine from two months after Jose and I started dating, on the evening of my birthday on June 30, 2009. Jose was in the Philippines for a family reunion, and I was at my house alone. It was clear that our love was strong from the start, with all the times I wrote “I miss him” and “I want to spend my life with him.” But what I truly enjoyed reading is something I am grateful for now.

I wrote about the serious doubts I had for our interfaith relationship. I questioned every aspect: how we’d raise kids, how our kids would self-identify, what I would think if my kids “chose” Jose’s Catholic religion, what values are important to our families and how we would navigate those desires and balance them with our own. Would I acquiesce on incorporating Jewish traditions into my home, or would I even care five, 10, 15 years down the road? Would I become more or less Jewish as I got older? Would I want a Christmas tree in my house? Would I sing Christmas carols? Would Jose accept if my opinions on religion changed over the years? Finally, should religion be a deal-breaker?

From the start of our relationship, I was honest and communicated my concerns with Jose, and we worked on it together. I read that entry now with a huge smile on my face. I am grateful that we grew together from the experience and tackled the challenge, to the point where it’s no longer an issue. Of course, religion will still present challenges throughout our lives but we have built a solid foundation of love and acceptance to face those challenges.

After thoughtful discussions and honest answers, Jose and I decided that we would only look at our religions as an asset to our relationship, not as an impediment. Our backgrounds are a means for us to see the world through a different lens and to become more empathetic and compassionate human beings. We have been a team from the start, and we have taken a true interest in and respect for each other’s cultures. I didn’t fully realize until now, re-reading that entry, just how far we have come.

Our new daily mindfulness practice begins with the idea of being grateful. Jose and I reflect on three things we are grateful for that happened during the day. Because we are vocalizing these things and giving them careful consideration, they usually end up being bigger picture things. Often just stepping back from the minutiae of our lives to reflect on the positive is enough to pull our minds out of the rut that can drag us down. We started doing this at the suggestion of a life coach we met (her name is Pax Tandon if you’re inclined to look her up and work with her) and we try to do it every night before dinner.

Because it is a practice and nobody is perfect, it’s freaking hard. It’s a challenge just to shell out the time to have a mindful dinner, meaning clearing off the table and putting things in serving bowls (instead of eating out of whatever containers the to-go food came in or right off the pan), and talking to each other instead of watching TV. After a long day, we just want to wind down and sit on the couch. Sometimes that is what we need, so we do that, but mostly it feels more satisfying to challenge ourselves to do the gratefulness practice. We have made huge strides in our positivity and stress management from just a few short weeks of this.

Whether you are planning a wedding or just going about your daily life, practicing mindfulness can have an immense benefit on your life. But it is a practice, and it doesn’t just happen in one day. There are ample articles popping up on the benefits of mindfulness, and as a yoga teacher, I am a firm believer in the practice. Mindfulness means letting go of the past and not worrying about the future, replacing all of those thoughts with an awareness of and appreciation for the present. If that sounds impossible to you, you’re mostly right. No human can entirely live in the present moment, because we carry our past experiences with us at all times. But the practice means we take simple, measurable steps each day to expand our ability to live in the present, and it really does open our eyes to the subtleties in life we would have otherwise ignored.

Mindfulness can mean you incorporate meditation (even a short, comfortable seated five-minute meditation) or set intentions for your day (a to-do list that you check off), or maybe even make reminders to take deep breaths. It means working on belly breathing: breathing diaphragmatically, not into your upper chest. It means considering and being grateful for the food you eat, where it came from and how many steps it took to get to you. Gratefulness is a part of mindful living, and taking that step alone to incorporate thoughts into your day of what you are grateful for, instead of what you don’t have, can have a huge impact.

If you choose to incorporate this practice into your life, allow yourself space to think about the negatives, even to complain about them, but don’t let them consume you. You may try to think of the things that are not going how you thought they would, what you wish to change, and what hurts you, and then immediately follow those thoughts with positives to counter it. Or you may try to start with a positive and find that the negative seems so slight in comparison. When there are really big negatives in your life and they seem insurmountable (believe me I can relate) you might try to break down each day into parts and find a small bit of positivity and gratefulness in a few moments. If you’re interested in incorporating mindfulness practices into your life, I would be happy to help steer you in the right direction for resources, and if you’re in Philly, I will absolutely drag you to a yoga class with me!

Most of all, what Jose and I have found in the last few weeks of incorporating a mindfulness practice is that we are so thankful that we are still here together, supporting each other and preparing for our marriage. Looking back on how far we have come and expressing gratitude for it, especially regarding our different religions, is so rewarding. Every relationship takes work and practice, and we are mindful that we need to consistently work to be the best we can be for each other. I encourage anyone reading to try this, because just knowing that your partner is showing up each day with as much care and effort as you are, even if your practice together that day sucks or if you half-ass it, is a game-changer. It has been a rock for us. The richness in overcoming the challenges that life gives us and growing stronger for it has gotten us to this point—a month and half until our wedding day, and I absolutely can’t wait! Let’s do this!