of photos, presence, and paying attention

I have been thinking about that wedding I presided at in September, and about my request to the guests to refrain from taking photographs during the vows.
There have been some conversations with people in the lead up to the wedding, and the emergence of photos taken during that part of the ceremony since, that indicate that people may not either understand or agree.
So why did I make that request of the guests? (note that I didn't make the request of the professional photographer, who is there to do a job)

It has to do with my understanding of why we have weddings at all.
The most intimate relationships we have, our life partnerships, are part of the fabric of our community - as are all our relationships. But there are some relationships that seem to run key threads through that fabric, holding it together, giving it strength. These relationships we want to publicly affirm with ritual celebration, community blessing, with the saying of vows in front of witnesses.*

And here is the reason for my request regarding photography at weddings: what is important for me about the wedding ceremony is the saying of vows before witnesses, in the company of our friends and family - our community - within whose relationships this partnership lives. This partnership will nurture these individuals in the fulness of their humanity, but will also nurture relationships these two will have with family and friends, colleagues and strangers, and be nurtured in turn by those relationships.
If we ask our community to bear witness to the vows we make to our life partner, it occurs to me that we might want our witnesses to be present, attentive, in the moment of the making of the vows. No special magic happens in that moment, in that this love has been growing, commitment forming, gradually, over time, and this is an affirmation of that growing, living love. A special magic happens in that moment, however, in the affirmation of love, in the bearing witness, in the being present with each other as a community.

It is my opinion that fiddling around with cameras, trying to get photographs, is a distraction from our being present with this couple in this moment, and it spoils the magic, takes us away from the moment, so that we do not fulfil our role as witnesses.
The professional photographer is there to take the photos, freeing us up for our role - to pay attention, to be fully present, to bear witness, as part of the nurturing of this relationship and these human beings within the loving fabric of community.

I wonder if, in the West, we have lost our ability to be still, to pay attention? And I wonder if we have forgotten that the fulness of our humanity is found together, in the every day sharing of life, and in the magic moments of affirmation and celebration of love and life?

It is my job, I believe, as a minister of religion and presider at ceremonies, to call us to remember what it is to be human, to remind us of the need for stillness and attention, to tell us the story of love, which is most truly love when we commit our whole selves to love.
So I will continue to ask guests at weddings at which I preside to put their cameras away, and simply be present for the couple, bearing witness, participating in the fulness of our humanity, together.

*the relationship of minister and community of faith is another such relationship


Anne Magarey said…
This is very perceptive, Sarah. Thank you.

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