In the Scriptures and in Christian tradition, we encounter vows or what the King James version calls covenants. People remember the Noahic covenant, in which God tells Noah that he will never flood the earth again as he did in Noah’s day. Then there is the Abrahamic covenant, when God promises that Abraham’s descendants will bless all the nations of the world. We later read about the Davidic covenant, when God promises David that the Messiah will come from his lineage. In the New Testament, the best-known covenant is at the Last Supper. Jesus tells his disciples that this is the new covenant in his blood and that we should love one another as He has loved us.
When I perform weddings, I tell the couple that it is their wedding and they should choose music, readings, and decorations that reflect who they are. I present them with the traditional wedding vows but tell them they are free to write their own. Most of them choose to use the traditional vows, but some couples take my encouragement and write their own.
When someone writes original wedding vows, they often want to surprise me and all the friends and family members who attend their wedding. This means they sometimes hide a piece of paper in their pocket, write their vows on a napkin or, in one of the most creative instances, write the vows on their own hands. In a few rare occasions, I have seen wedding vows tattooed on arms or legs.
I am impressed by their scribal spontaneity and creativity of these couples. It is refreshing to hear that they imagine their lives together to be a perpetual dance of bliss or a succession of flights to new celestial heights. At one wedding I attended in the Midwest, both the bride and groom were accomplished musicians and they wrote their vows using solfege (do, re, mi).
Sometimes the couple’s newly written promises reflect the ancient. I heard one set of vows where someone said they would love their spouse with the passion of the great lovers who have gone before them. Others use a verse from the poet Byron in which the reader is invited to seduce their lover over and over again, or a Dantean refrain describing the bride as the muse who will enable them to see the sublime intricacies and beauties of the earth together.
Love and covenants are as ancient as Adam and Eve, but the things that were once new are now old. The small child asking, “Do you think he likes me?” becomes an adult standing near a spouse as they depart this world to realms they have never experienced. In the same way, the wedding vows of our grandparents are now traditional and the inventive promises we make today may one day be considered old-fashioned. The love and the promise, however, are timeless.