I officiated at a wedding at the American Visionary Art Museum on September 1. The bride and groom come from different faith traditions, and so the ceremony reflected both their Unitarian Universalist understanding of religion, but also the Catholic and Hindu traditions of the wedding couple’s heritage. It was wonderful to do an Indian wedding in the James Rouse Educational Center where the Kinetic Sculptures are kept–including a wonderful elephant, Bumpo! (Guests remarked that it was an auspicious sign.)
I was pleased that the groom’s family led a number of Hindu rites during the wedding, including the walking of Seven Steps around a sacred fire. What follows are the words recited by aunt and uncle for their nephew and his bride:
The ceremony of Saptapadi, or The Seven Steps
Here the bride and groom will take seven symbolic steps, while taking these seven vows.
I ask you, Amy and Debjoy, to concentrate upon these seven vows as you take the seven steps. With God as our guide, let us now take the seven stepsâ€¦.
The first step to provide nourishment and pure food for your household.
Together you will share the responsibility of home and family.
The second step to develop your physical, mental and spiritual powers.
Together you will develop mental, physical, and spiritual strength.
The third step to increase your wealth by righteous means and diligence.
Together you will prosper and share your worldly goods.
The fourth step to acquire knowledge, and happiness by mutual love & trust.
Together you will fill your hearts with great joy, peace, and happiness.
The fifth step to be blessed with strong, virtuous and heroic children.
Together you will raise strong and virtuous children.
The sixth step to have self restraint and longevity.
Together you will remain faithful and live in perfect harmony.
The seventh step to become true companions and lifelong partners by this wedlock.
You will always cherish each other as the best of friends.
Groom: â€œWith these seven steps you have become my friend. May I deserve your friendship,â€
Bride: â€œMay my friendship make me one with you. May your friendship make you one with me.â€
With each step, the priest chants a blessing in Sanskrit, and at the end of the ceremony, an invocation of Peace blesses the entire community.
Unitarians since the time of Emerson and Parker have appreciated Hindu philosophy. Indeed, I believe it was the study of a German language edition of the Bhagavad Gita in the Harvard library that led Emerson to encourage the appreciation of an immanent God found directly in Nature and Parker to find God in Human Nature (especially our natural tendency toward fairness, what I might call Justice). My own visit to India as an incredibly naive college student a few (!) years ago was transformative, and I have been unpacking the significance of that month of my life for decades.
An ancient Christian perspective sees history and a line moving forward that lead to the establishment of God’s Kingdom through catastrophe–a war at Armageddon, and the miraculous work of a terrible God!. One nineteenth century Unitarian mindset imagines likewise that life exists in an unbroken line that leads toward perfection, but that it is we who are progressivley establishing the rule and realm of God. But to hold a philosophy that sees life as far more complex than having one unbroken line, one set of progressive traditions, but rather a series of cycles that repeat, such a philosophy captures a more ancient way of thinking. Like nature, the seasons of a life repeat, although each time we bring more experience to the choices we are free to make. Like in nature, we carry with us some remnant of a previous cycle, even some psychological truth that is wedded to us, some old relationships which bless or curse us–all things that we can’t simply be free of. Like nature, life is terrifically complex, and no one of us can be in charge, no one of us entirely responsible.
To live a life with a relationship based on those Seven Steps is very attractive to me. I wonder if there is sacred fire that I will one day walk around with a special partner . . .