Our dear friends, Diane and Bill, were married thirty-some years ago by a Presbyterian minister in Indianapolis. It was in all ways a family-sanctioned, conventional, and presumably very lovely wedding. Over these many years the couple's spiritual practices unavoidably evolved. From a stalwart adherent of the traditional Episcopal church in Virginia, Diane studied, searched, and found her way to ordination as a Universal Worship minister herself.
Her path has become increasingly broad and inclusive. She has studied Hebrew under a conservative rabbi. She has studiedtheology under a Sufi teacher. She has hosted Hawaiian Return Voyage gatherings in her home.
Diane has never been an indiscriminate spiritual seeker. Rather, she has been looking for the threads that bind the human soul together. She has been looking for a way past the established divisions.
She could not have known that every single step she took would be a preparation for the celebration of her daughters' weddings.
Last week, on exquisite Block Island, Rhode Island, 'Iokepa chanted at Bill and Diane's daughter's wedding. His voice carried into the Atlantic Ocean, across this very different island than our own. He had a hydrangea blossom pinned to his lapel instead of a ki leaf lei around his neck. He stood in the cool, decided untropical air and belted out Hawaiian prayers.
Despite the apparent differences, he said: "All that was on this island (like Hawai'i), still is. The spiritual practices remain present and intact."
'Iokepa chanted, but he did not officiate. That honor went to the bride's mother, our friend Diane. And this woman led one of the most meaningful, deeply intimate marriage ceremonies I've ever had the joy to witness. It was the words. But is was more than the words. It was the setting, but it was more than the setting.
It was the fact of the mother. It was the fact of the confident, confidence-inspiring woman, who is the mother. Diane (at the request of each of their daughters) was able to know the hearts of the bride and the groom and convey that knowing to the hearts of those of us who had gathered.
This wedding coincided with the Judge Sonia Sotomeyor congressional confirmation hearings. At the exact moment when our friend Diane stood strong in her compassionate mother-role, there were politicians who were still challenging the female half of the human equation. "Empathy" at the hearings became an ugly and controversial word.
Diane's moment argued powerfully against those who disputed the validity of female sensibility and experience--who continued to defend the status quo: Heartlessness, dis-empowered women, and yes, war.
'Iokepa saw it a bit differently. "Why don't we have more Bills? "
Bill is no feminized male. Let me assert here: Bill is a fully empowered, remarkably successful man in every measurable, American way. Yet he is not only not afraid of his wife's gifts--he is clearly in awe of them.
Return Voyage speaks of the return to that authentic aboriginal Hawaiian culture as an example for the rest of the world. That culture was matriarchal. That culture existed for over 12,000 years without war. 'Iokepa has said: "The women wouldn't permit war and the men respected that."
So, "Why don't we have more Bills?" means to 'Iokepa this.
"It isn't going to happen without the men. We are not asked to 'Share the spotlight.' Rather, we are asked to celebrate the independence--the singularity--of the woman. Men are askedto fully support and respect those differences. It is an understanding that this takes nothing away from us.
"Oppression of our other half comes only from fear."
So we celebrate the marriage of Bill and Diane's daughter and son-in-law. But we celebrate, as well, the fearlessness, the confidence, and yes, the empathy that these parents brought to this wedding.