“Love lights more fires than hate extinguishes.”

Ella Wheeler Wilcox, a 19th century author and poet,


There seems to be less unity candles at marriage ceremonies these days but the bridal party wanted me, the pastor, to include it. Candles don’t fair too well for outdoor weddings and I was a bit nervous when I discovered they would be front and center on an open-air windy day. Unity candles have been around since the 1930s and all that I have come up with by way of a purpose is the following: Lighting candles can bring serenity, focus and comfort to the participants. It obviously symbolizes love in the union but what else? Well, I assumed it signifies intimacy, warmth, candlelight dinners, cozy fireside settings with bear rugs and God, of course.

I was already to hold forth with images of affection until I learned the groom-to-be was knocked down and kicked in the face by one of his groomsmen, a close friend, at the bachelor party in a pub the night before the wedding. Needless to say, the groom guy was dropped from the wedding team. It seemed everyone present knew about the ordeal except for the pastor who found out about it just prior to the ceremony.

Do I pretend all is well and move on with the ceremony? If so, what do I do with a statement about the cozy candle? I made it a point during the ceremony to not mention the skirmish and acted as though I never knew about it. So, here’s what I chose to comment upon the unity candle;

“Families and friends, unity candles are obviously about love and God’s presence but we need to keep in mind that candles can burn us if we’re not careful and a storm can extinguish them at any time and we can be lost in the dark. One minute we are in a profound deep union with a lover or friend and in the next moment we can be scalded or suddenly in the dark and we won’t know what hit us.

Hang in there with me for a bit because I want to introduce you to a cranial organ that is fascinating and has come out of the darkness by biologists in the last few years. It’s called the Insula and it houses our deepest emotions. And get this; it is jammed packed with unconditional compassion and right next to the loving mood is fear, anger, rage and sexual urges.

Try to imagine a loving couple sitting at a candlelight dinner. All is well until the spouse says to her hubby “I need to tell you that I had an accident with the car today.”

“Are you OK?” he asked with a bit of fear.

“Yes.” She replies contritely.

“Well, what is the condition of the car?”

A pause…“It’s totaled.”

“What?” he bellows, jumping from fear to anger.

That’s the Insula organ at work. Love in one moment and anger capping it.

Now, let’s envision an adoring couple lying down on that bear rug by a fireside. Everything is cozy until the wife says to her husband “I guess I need to tell you that I had an affair a long, long, time ago. It was a one-night stand.”

“What, you did what?” One candle is flickering and the other one blows out with the husband’s shouting.

The mood goes instantly from a tender bond to rage, full blown fury, and way beyond anger. That’s the Insula at work with the crowded profound emotions that can light us up and knock us down by a strike of a match.

My explosive Insula urges went haywire on the way to this wedding. My wife and I were more excited about this marriage than most any I have ever conducted. When the 28-year-old bride-to-be was a thirteen-year-old acolyte in my church she was determined to have me conduct her wedding when she grew up. Her grandparents became great friends in a prior church I served.

We were a little late in getting here so I decided to drive 10 to 15 miles-an-hour above the speed limit. We were on a mountain next to a sheer drop off when I noticed in the rearview mirror a motorist behind us was weaving in and out of the cars and probably driving 25 miles-an-hour over the limit.

We were on a sharp curve when he suddenly pulled in front of me and I had to slam on the brakes. It was a terrifying moment but I skipped fear and went right to rage. My wife put her hand on my arm and said “Don’t lose it, Reverend!” Oh, she can be so sweet but I wanted to stay with the madness. I watched that car for some time and I blessed the driver…twice! Well, hey, I’m retired and my pension is intact.

That’s how fast the Insula erupts. I went from feeling great about the wedding but I was too busy cursing to remember that there ever was a wedding coming up during that sudden nightmare. Both of my candles were extinguished for a time. I was fortunate to get back to the loving part of the day and I was able to let go of the nut behind the wheel.

Ah, but we are here now to unite Joyce and John in wedded bliss, a love that has the power to keep their candles burning through thick and thin, dark and light, and wind and rain. And here is the bottom line; their candles will grow brighter when we unite with them wholeheartedly on this sacred day.”


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