I attended a wedding of one of my wife’s co-workers this past weekend and I do not know how most wedding ceremonies are conducted or even if there is a “usual” wedding ceremony. This one took place in a church that I assume is a traditional Christian church and so this one is probably similar to most Christian wedding ceremonies. This couple included a “Unity Sand” ritual that I was unfamiliar with but similar to the “Unity Candle” ritual my wife and I used in our wedding. The ritual is simple with each mother of the couple pouring one of the different colored sand into a larger glass container to symbolize the uniting of two families and the couple pouring the rest of the sand in so that a pattern of alternating colors is evident. Christian weddings are all about uniting two into one and I assume most weddings have some symbolism that emphasizes the same thing. The advantage of unity sand over a unity candle is that the couple gets to take the mixed sand home with them as a reminder.
As a marriage counselor who sees couples that are having great difficulty staying united I could not help but wonder how much power these rituals have. Of course by itself ritual has no power unless it has meaning so how important is it to the couple to stay united is the question. There are so many other forces during a life that compete for unity like making a living or having a successful career and mostly plain old selfishness. I like this image of sand pouring in to make a new and different entity because it makes one think about two people pouring their lives into each other to make something other than just themselves. This image of mixing lives together is obviously something that makes marriage unique.
We must be willing to give up something, and sometimes a lot of our self in order to stay together. That is often really hard to do.
I hope this couple makes it through a lifetime of staying together and as we all know divorce is more common, somewhere between 40-50% even though there is a lot of disagreement over this number (Scott M Stanley, “What is the Real Divorce Rate”). And the point for each one of us who are married is not what the divorce rate is but how important and meaningful is your marriage? Do you really believe uniting two lives into one is essential? Is this something you really want to do? Does staying together mean enough to you to do it? Do you know what it takes and how to do it?
One of the great things about attending a wedding is the witnessing of two people making a commitment to be together and the ceremony is all about making promises to each other to do just that; it is a moment filled with hope. I wonder if a wedding ceremony reflects more than just the hope for two people remaining joined together. Maybe it is a metaphor to remind us of what we must do as a larger community. Maybe it reminds us that we must pour and mix our lives together, that we cannot keep our sand separate from theirs. There is a great amount of discussion in this country about how we have become a divided nation. It has become very difficult for our governing bodies and political parties to agree on much of anything. We are hardly able to accomplish much of anything together; unity seems to have become an elusive goal. So many social issues divide us from gay marriage to abortion to income distribution that it seems unresolvable. Many of us do not want to pour any of our sand in with their sand. I do not know if there is a connection between becoming and staying united as a couple and being united as a nation but I suspect there is. Maybe our country needs a unity sand ceremony to remind us of what it takes to be “one nation, indivisible.”