Birth, Marriage and Death

The Grand Project, that of reading the large collection of Lord Edward Bulwer-Lytton‘s romances, continues apace. Volumes I-III all concern the Caxton family, by Volume Two Pisistratus Caxton, now father to three children is encouraged by his family to augment their income by writing a novel, which he imaginatively calls “My Novel – or varieties in English Life” and the novel continues into Volume Three. It is not until Volume VIII that we arrive at his most famous novel The Last Days of Pompeii, one volume that has been read before, probably by both my mother-in-law and my brother-in-law, fain they would have ventured further, but I fear that most of the books remain as pristine as when they were first bound! We shall see, meanwhile I am still reading the Caxton stories, armed with a knife to cut the pages.

So what’s with the title of this post? Two books which I opine should be on the shelves of every family and every parish priest, indeed anyone who is contemplating marriage and all of us who are (or should be) contemplating death.

scan0003To start with marriage then. My great friend, The Reverend Canon Mark Oakley, when newly in orders was bewailing the seeming paucity of choice when couples came to be married. This volume of pieces suitable for weddings will assist not only the couple, but the priests who have to prepare them for marriage, for often it is to the celebrant the couple will turn for ideas. Here in a single book lies a treasure trove which includes variety and thoughtful pieces chosen by someone who really has a remarkable gift for language. At the time, Mark thought that he could hardly bear to take yet another ceremony at which Khahil Gibran was rolled out to offer the young couple a guide to their future lives together:

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

So he set about to compile a collection of Biblical passages, poems, prose, hymns, psalms all celebrating in different ways with wisdom, with wit, with wry humour and with honesty the marriage contract. Readings for Weddings is an inclusive and intelligent selection, it puts literature into the very heart of the marriage ceremony, and in a civil ceremony gives plenty of choices that do not include any reference to a Deity. I have been struck many times at how strictly this is observed, on two occasions at least when I have written the poem myself and regard it as sacred to the couple, the Registrar has insisted on reading it first – spoiling its virginity thereby.

As one of the speech makers at my own son’s wedding recently, I resorted to this helpful and appropriate volume. Choosing part of an essay by Wendell Berry from Poetry and Marriage. There is truly something for everyone, an exemplary selection.
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And so on to the next Big Thing! Death. It will come to us all, and at such a time having a volume to hand from which to choose an appropriate, dignified and sensitive reading will be helpful. Whether you plan it with your family in advance, or leave notes or just leave the book in their hands, there is no one, I think, who will come away empty handed. Even if there is no need for a reading, these words are comforting, a solace. As we grow older we will attend more funerals than weddings, and we are quite likely to be asked to contribute. Not everyone can rise to the challenge when the time comes, this volume of Readings for Funerals will inspire, console and comfort at a difficult time.

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