- To Become Life-Long Friends:A Sermon Delivered at the Marriage of John Thatamanil and Kate Newman at St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery, New York City, on June 30, 2018
marriage, religious diversity, commitment, lifelong friendship, interreligious togetherness, interreligious friendship, lokamitra
I am honored, beyond words, to be invited to offer this sermon at your wedding today. John, you are a dear and trusted friend and scholarly colleague for almost three decades, and I am grateful and delighted for Kate as a friend and sister. Today you seal your love by entering into the relationship of marriage. Your beautiful Christian ceremony is grounded in the conviction that marriage is sacred. Your love acknowledges, expresses, and is inspired by God whose nature, as the Gospel of John reminds us, is love. You affirm and celebrate God's reality and presence in you by your love for each other.
I believe that it is your understanding of the inclusive nature of this divine love and your vision of religious diversity as an asset for our collective flourishing that explain your extraordinary, perhaps unprecedented invitation to a Hindu brother to deliver the sermon at your wedding. Your hospitality inspires me, and I receive it with humility and gratitude. I pray that this love will continue to grow in its embrace and be one of the abiding fruits and gifts of your marriage. John writes and speaks eloquently from his heart about interreligious receptivity and the necessity of both sharing and receiving. It is in this spirit that I offer these words.
I share with you your understanding of marriage as a relationship with sacred and transcendent meaning. It is a commitment of love made to each other in the light of divine presence. In the Hindu marriage ceremony, this divine presence is represented by the light of a fire. Before this fire, a couple [End Page 436] takes seven steps together, referred to, in Sanskrit, as saptapadi. Before each step, they express a specific commitment for their journey together:
Let us take the first step to become each other's nourishment
Let us take the second step to become each other's strength
Let us take the third step to become each other's wealth
Let us take the fourth step to become each other's joy
Let us take the fifth step to become each other's family
Let us take the sixth step to become each other's delight in every season
Let us take the seventh step to become each other's lifelong friend
In each of the seven sentences of commitment, the verb is identical; it is bhava, "to become." The idea here is that to make a vow or to express a commitment for one's marriage does not signify that the meaning and challenges of the commitment are realized in its utterance. In the ceremony, you take the first step (padi) in a shared journey of unending becoming, of learning, of growth. Each day is a new step together in a deepening process of learning what it means to become a source of nourishment, strength, wealth, joy, family, delight, and friendship. The beauty of marital commitments is to be found in their ever-widening nature, in the excitement and joy of discovering new ways of understanding and expressing each one. You are committing yourselves to a journey of becoming in the intimate mutuality of your love.
In the Hindu tradition, the final step in a ritual or the final verse or line in a sacred text (upasamhara) is regarded as especially significant. It articulates the essence of the ritual or the text. In the seven steps of the Hindu marriage ceremony, the final step is taken for friendship with the words: "Let us take the seventh step to become each other's lifelong friend," in Sanskrit, Sakha Saptapadi Bhava. You marry to celebrate friendship and to grow in friendship. Friendship is the fertile soil that will nourish and strengthen you, renewing your daily joy and delight. In commending friendship to you, I am aware that I have not yet shared anything of its meaning. What do we aspire to become in friendship? To...