Two Faiths, One Love - Greater Acceptance For Interfaith Marriages

It's Obama time, and there is something wonderful in the air - the celebration of multiculturalism. The fact that more and more couples of different faiths and cultures are intermarrying is undeniable. An estimated one third of today's marriages are mixed unions. Over my 12 plus years as an interfaith minister and counselor for intermarrying couples and their families, I have seen some dramatic changes. I see a greater acceptance of such unions simply for the reason that they are not so novel anymore.
The younger generation lives in an interconnected world with less boundaries and greater tolerance. Having said that, the creation of the marriage ceremony still remains a delicate navigational feat. Weddings, after all, are public events. Parents, grandparents, as well as extended family members, are usually considered and often included. Done properly, a ceremony that celebrates a nuptial couple's full heritage is an enlightening, enriching experience for all. It is a ceremony that unifies and does not exclude. It is rooted in respect, and bridged by love.
-Rebeccah and Dhiran, Jewish and Hindu respectively, chose to marry at the U.N. Chapel in NYC for its symbol of multicultural unity. Within the chapel, their florist created a gorgeous combination chuppah/mandap (wedding canopies featured in both traditions) making it colorful as is customary in Hindu tradition. I made reference to the similarities in their traditions---the Jewish Circling/the Hindu circling of the fire----the Hindu Seven Steps and the Seven Jewish Wedding Blessings. They exchanged garlands and rings---both circular symbolizing unending love. She stepped on a stone---symbolizing the hearth of their future home and the steadfast nature of their love. He stepped on the glass as is Jewish tradition signifying that marriage is a transformational and irrevocable experience, leaving the couple forever changed and united. There were prayers of peace in Hebrew and Hindi. The ceremony opened with the words Shalom and Namaste and ended with the joyful shouting of Mazel tov!
I cannot stress enough how important it is to have your officiant explain the symbolism. Language may have to be modified--- universalized somewhat while remaining true to its essence--- in order to be sensitive to both sides of the family. In this way, everyone understands what is transpiring and no one feels excluded.
-Kelly and Zak, an Irish Catholic-Moroccan Muslim, chose to marry at their reception site---neutral ground. We asked Kelly's grandmother to recite a traditional Irish marriage blessing in Gaelic and English, and Zak's father to recite a blessing by the poet Rumi in Arabic and English. Rituals included the Moroccan sharing of a date and milk and Christian lighting of unity candle. Their mothers participated in the candle lighting and were each presented with a single rose and personal notes. There were bagpipes for the recession and Berber dancers at the reception.
-Some people refer to these ceremonies as fusion weddings. Chris and Mae, African American Christian and Chinese Buddhist respectively, wanted a humanist ceremony that celebrated their cultural heritage---one that was also a love story. They wanted their ceremony to honor and celebrate their families as well. We combined the African tasting of the spices with the traditional Chinese tea ceremony. We honored their ancestors---something that is done in both cultures. The music-a soft fusion of Buddhist bells and African drumming--- filled the air. And I told their love story---how they met, fell in love, how they felt about one about one another. Their guests left basking in the magic of their love.
There are so many delightful choices for today's intermarrying couples. It is important for a couple to research their options. Interfaith, intercultural wedding ceremonies take more thought and time, but it's worth it. After all, this is the birthday of your marriage! It conveys to your guests who you are and how you feel.
There is another wonderful change I've noticed. In these troubled economic times, couples are reassessing what is important to them. They are seeking more meaning, less flash. The ceremony is the heart and soul of the day. It sets the tone. Why not make it special?