I recently had the chance to officiate a marriage ceremony of Circle of Hope people (the first time I have done this as a pastor). These words are based on what I shared with Scott and Anneliese and their guests. Scott discovered this poem for me. I am very grateful to him for that. May their union be blessed, protected and deep.
“Most Like an Arch This Marriage”
by John Ciardi 1958
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.
This poem struck me so truly with truth and wisdom I decided we need to walk through it again after Anneliese’s friend had just read it.

Most like an arch—an entrance which upholds
and shores the stone-crush up the air like lace.

This marriage began a long time ago, but we pause now at the entrance of its new era. The two of you have been becoming married for quite some time, learning each other and in the process better learning yourselves. You’ve become geologists intensely interested in the formation of each stone that makes the column standing there across from you. Each glint and divot; every smooth and rough edge wants to be known and so many of them are between you two. You come to other, in many ways fully formed. Pressed into somethingness by outside forces, made from nothingness maybe, and since then, hewn by previous hammers, crushed before by lives lived in joy and sorrow. You come to the other as you are. This whole ceremony is designed to give you that moment to see your beloved as who they are. To love them in their fantastic intricacy and beauty. To wonder about what more will be made. We stand at the entrance, and pause. It’s time to secure this arch.

Mass made idea, and idea held in place.
A lock in time. Inside half-heaven unfolds.

Stepping in to these vows, you make real the idea of firmness that has sprouted in your minds. The dreams of partners idealized or otherwise, get set aside. The stones are set. Now we make it real. You make it real, and heaven gets made with you.

You know Paul when he was talking about marriage in the letter he wrote to the New Testament letter to the Ephesians seemed to think that marriage was tied up in the redemption of all things. A great mystery he said. I don’t claim to know how it will be, but I do believe that what you two are doing has something to do with heaven unfolding.

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.

And its power is in weakness? What?

Yes!

Accepting your falling and planning to fail, but doing it together will lead to marital success. And to do that together, today you resolve to set much aside. Do we all know this word, abeyance? The force of the weight above the arch is abeyed to the side and channeled firmly into the ground. Each side putting the weight to its side. The weight of your life together will come from within and without. Life will continue to crush from above, and your common weakness will perennially hurt your beloved. The abeyance for that inevitability will be forgiveness or this arch will not stand forever. You will set to one side your hurt out of love for the other and your common purpose: this marriage, most like an arch.

And the poet knows that this type of relating is at the heart of meaning itself. That expectation, that trust, that hope, says something about the nature of meaning—a term naming the fact that teaches fact to mean. It is foundational truth, not just to your marriage, but to the truth itself.

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.

“All I do at piling stone on stone apart from you is roofless around nothing. Until we kiss I am no more than upright and upset.” I love this poem! This is where the particular becomes essential. It is not just any column, This specific one is the one on whom you lean. The one you chose, the one who chose you. The one you choose, the one who chooses you. The threat of rooflessness is specific to THIS one. Without her you have no home. Without him you have no home. This is clear to you now, but it might not be as clear in the years to come. And so we make a big deal about the promises, the vows, you make today. We make a memory that cannot be forgotten and we tie it to these promises. To love, to forgive, to lean, to be one. We’re all here to remember this with you, and help hold you up when the geometry gets shifted, and your own weight doesn’t hold you up as well as it does today.