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The Bonds of Matrimony
2010.06.07 / Sophia Butler
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As we enter summer, the glorious sunshine encourages people to tie the knot in inventive ways. I accepted a wonderful invitation recently, accompanying Ross to witness a couple declare their commitment to walking a shared path through this life. It was to be a spiritual ceremony conducted by a Hawaiian Shaman – the question of what to wear was quite a widespread concern! The weather was scorching in the verdant Derbyshire countryside and several ladies I bumped into at the B&B were eager to discuss outfits. I was sure that the outrageous option would have gone down well, but I decided to stick with a long classic silk dress, cut on a bias, which can never look out of place (thank-you Dariaux!). Ross looked dashing in a well-cut grey summer suit and we had matching favours which are the Scottish equivalent of a corsage –complete with thistles, tartan ribbon and a white rose for the lady.

Whether we think of marriage as warfare or as a delightful experiment; it belongs to the category of the most dangerous and potentially expensive inventions! Isadora Duncan wrote that “Any woman who reads a marriage contract and then goes into it, deserves all the consequences”; I wonder how she would feel about the cult of the prenuptial agreement?! However, the most entertained dream of the majority of little girls still seems to be their wedding day. It certainly was not mine; I remember telling my Mama at the age of five that I hated boys – she sat down in front of me and said: “Darling, I know that there will come a day when you will not feel that way”. This memory often amuses me, as I realize that the anarchist inside me is slowly being eroded, by a more traditional woman who would like to stand against the world with the man of her choice.
The guests were a mix of classic, smart and totally new-age ensembles. The ceremony followed a traditional style at first. The bride and groom both stood under a veranda in their glistening whites, as the first speaker delivered the legally binding: ‘for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; until death do us part’ vows.
It was unbearably hot; people were visibly burning and sheltering their faces under song sheets, when the Hawaiian Shaman took the stage in an embroidered, violet, velvet blazer. He announced that he liked to take a bit of Hawaii with him wherever he went! Suddenly, where we had struggled to hear the words before and sit still with the sweat beads trickling down our faces; it was as though the voltage had been turned up, everyone sat straighter; his voice boomed and held the energy of the clearing where we were seated. Plant spores started to drift down from the sky, creating the surreal effect of a snowstorm in the heat. We recognized his words instinctively as the truth – he talked of the dark nights which are bound to face the couple at some point and about our duty as those gathered to witness their union, to help them in times of need, when the clarity of this decision may be obscured for a time. Tears began to trickle and couples embraced. The blessings of the four elements were invoked and honoured by sharing a little water, earth, lighting a candle and breathing on the couple (by the Shaman). Inhaling another’s breath is a symbol for sharing the spirit of life; the couple rubbed noses and blew on each other’s faces, according to the Hawaiian ritual, which was the greeting amongst all islanders in days gone by. When Captain Cook arrived with his handshake, the white man became known as the “Haole” or those who give no breath of life, (‘Ha’ is the breath of life and ‘Ole’ means no or none).
Biblically speaking, God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep and it took marriage to wake him; a man is incomplete until he is married... then he is finished! The words of American writer Helen Rowland are the most touching I have read on this subject: “Woman was taken out of man; not out of his head to top him, nor out of his feet to be trampled underfoot; but out of his side to be equal to him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be loved”. Unfortunately, marriages are often miserable ghosts of their once romantic, affectionate, mutually supportive relationship-selves. I am in pursuit of a fairytale marriage – one that does not end at the close of the wedding party. I have already seen a few couples who have devoted themselves so completely to the big day, that in its passing they have experienced an anti-climax and no longer had much to talk about! The process has also been known to end some marriages before they have even begun!
The preoccupation of our culture with marriage is endless, the institution of wedding planners; specialists who help you create your dream day and dramatized films on the subject of cultural weddings, run away brides, wedding singers, party crashers, wedding dates for hire, drunken marriages in Las Vegas and the wedding blues abound! A sweet story on marriage is that of Muriel’s Wedding, about the long-harboured desire of an ordinary girl to walk down the altar – it was an Oscar winner of course!
With at least half of traditional marriages ending in divorce, with spectacular and vulgar exposition of details if you are unfortunate enough to be a celebrity – why do we do it? The first time round we have the excuse of curiosity and naivety – what about the serial offenders? Zsa Zsa Gabor springs to mind, she used to say that she was the perfect housewife because she always kept the houses (after divorce that is) and never hated the man enough to throw the engagement ring back at him!
Say you have landed yourself a dream man: he has chased you and presented you with a rock that made Alcatraz blush – the story is just beginning – you must work to become a fabulous bride! After weeks of day-dreaming the reality of organizing the actual wedding kicks in: the hen night, the dress, the venue – church or registry office? Should you exchange vows in the open air – in the park, cruising the Thames or go further afield? Then there is the guest-list, the date, the flowers, the hair, the cake, the bridesmaids, the music, the first dance, the honeymoon and then – the bill, it is like taking a dip in subzero water! The reality is that this is only the beginning. If you survived it, well done, now begins the rest of your life; you must become a wonderful spouse!
According to Peter de Vries, the American novelist, ”The bonds of matrimony are like any other bonds – they mature slowly”, which leads us back to the crux of the issue – the whole process can be a travail, but it is only the beginning – those who imagine that marriage is the solution will have a rude awakening!
The old Polish tradition of bramy or obstacles recognizes the partnership necessary in the face of life’s challenges. The young couple are set tasks like peeling potatoes and chopping wood, in order to prepare them for the road ahead. If we, as the Shaman said, keep stepping towards our partner with love each day, our hearts will be opened and we will grow in spirit in the most rewarding union possible.
If you, like me, find the til death do us part vows a little heavy handed, there are a multitude of interesting strands which can be incorporated into a declaration of commitment. Neale Donald Walsch designed a new marriage contract, in which the couples vow to support the other for their highest spiritual development: unconditionally. The beauty of this is the introduction of selflessness, of supporting and loving the other, however life unfolds. With the current track record of tradition, spiritual ceremonies may be the way forward. I know that I would like a mix of cultural elements, some of my favourites are the Druid incantation: ‘We swear by peace and love to stand/ Heart to heart and hand to hand’. The Celtic version of til death do us part, which I much prefer: ‘I will cherish and honor you through this life and into the next’ and a vow from a spiritual ceremony: ‘I choose you as the soul with whom I will spend the rest of this life, I am honored to tell those present and the whole world, every living creature’. A note of sweetness and freedom exists in the Celtic ceremonies: ‘I pledge to you that yours will be the name I cry aloud in the night and the eyes into which I smile in the morning’. Another source of inspiration are couples who renew their vows every year – naturally, this would be a private affair, bringing into consciousness the intent of standing together regularly. We all crave a happy ending and know at least one couple who inspire us; there is no reason why we cannot rebel against the statistics and invent new ways of making a commitment to one we love.

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