Updated: Apr 22, 2019
A blessing of hands - at a wedding ceremony - is a moment to pause, to connect with your senses and your partner and reflect on the meaning of the promises you’re making. It can go before or after the vows but I often put it right
near the end of the ceremony - as a reflective moment of intimacy and connection before the celebrations begin.
It fits particularly well into a handfasting ceremony, when the hands are such a focus throughout, but it’s ideal for any couple that loves a bit of romance and tear-jerking intensity. I love it because, like a wedding ring - it gives you something to take away - a physical memory that brings with it a reminder of something you can do to help keep your marriage strong.
I wrote a long introduction to this blessing - musing on the nature of hands and of mind and body and ageing and dementia and all sorts. (It’s been a tough week.) But I’ve decided to share the blessing first and then you can read on afterwards, if you’re in a maudlin frame of mind, or head over back to Instagram if you’re more in the mood for #bohoweddinginspo and suchlike…
Anyway, here’s my take on the blessing of the hands. There are lots of versions out there but this is mine…
A Blessing of the Hands
(After exchanging rings, the couple stand facing each other, holding left and right hands.)
As you promise to love each other - today, tomorrow, and always - notice the feel of these two hands in yours - warm and strong. These are the hands that will work alongside your own, building two lives as one. These are the hands that will dry your tears - of sorrow and of joy. These are the hands that will hold you tight in raging storms. And these are the hands that will reach for your own, with every last spark of life left in them, until they can reach no more. So now, clasp your hands together as a seal of your love. When your hands touch in tenderness, your hearts beat together, you breathe as one and you soothe each another’s pain*. Remember this and touch often. Touch these hands softly. Touch them every day. Touch them until they know each other so well that you will feel the loving grasp of these hands forever - whether they are here or not.
*This is true - according to real science! I love this fact. This evening I held my husband's hands and told him about it. David replied that he's probably got a much lower resting heartbeat than me (he only goes to work because they've got a gym, whereas I sadly haven't been able to go running since I lost my headphones several months ago) and he's now worried that if we hold hands too much, I'll actually raise his heart-rate and make him as unfit as me. I fear this attitude springs from the fact that we didn't even have a celebrant wedding (we hadn't heard of celebrants all those years ago...), let alone a blessing of hands so he still needs a spot more education...
And here’s my long preamble-come-postamble…
Our hands connect us to the world and to each other. They are a link between the inner world of private thought and the outer world of action and communication.
This week someone close to me was diagnosed with vascular dementia. It has turned his world upside down and, although the disease hasn’t progressed far yet and we may well be able to control it with medication, dementia is a terrifying diagnosis. What frightens me most is the threatened loss of identity - the loss of the self; because in the West we tend to associate the self with the mind. What is a body, we ask ourselves, without a rational brain in the driving seat?
But if the mind is the real self, then why do we attach ourselves so strongly to each other’s bodies? Love - any kind of love - is intensely physical. We can never really know another person’s mind. We need to touch the people we love; we need to feel their breath, hear their voices. With our parents, our children, our lovers - we bond closely, like the animals we are, through all of our senses - most especially smell and touch. It’s a hug we miss most when our loved one is out of reach; not an eloquent treatise on their state of mind.
Towards the beginning and often - especially in the case of dementia - towards the ends of our lives, our minds struggle to drive our bodies at all. In this state we are intensely vulnerable; more in need than ever of the love and protection of others. If humans weren’t social animals, neither the dementia patient nor the newborn baby could survive. But we are and they do. Perhaps more loved, and more cherished because of the love and protectiveness they elicit in others (although sadly this isn’t true for all babies and it’s certainly not true for a horrifying number of vulnerable elderly people).
When facing the sad task of conducting funerals for babies, I’ve tended to focus not on what the baby did but on the love they have brought into this world; an intense, aching love that will never fade. At a recent funeral for a gentleman who’d had dementia in his last few years, we also talked a good deal about the love that his vulnerability drew out of those around him. He had contributed to his community as a younger man; helped others when he could - and this love came back to him tenfold when he was at his most vulnerable, even though those qualities that had first endeared him to his neighbours were no longer easy to see in him.
I hope we will not love our family member any less if and when his dementia progresses. He is ours. He is vulnerable. And he needs us. He is the same person as he always was but his circumstances are different. It’s like he’s been trying to make sense of the Financial Times and someone’s suddenly dimmed the lights, put two Taylor Swift songs on at once and released a dozen excited puppies into the room.
Whether we are awake or asleep, old or young, fit and healthy in body and mind or experiencing any kind of illness or disability; we are who we are. We’re valuable because we’re human, because we’re alive, because of our histories, because of our physical selves and because of the ways we have fitted into the lives of others. Of course there’s great value in what we do and say - but that isn’t the only way to matter.
As the unfamiliar world of dementia has edged its way into our lives (the diagnosis came this week, but it wasn’t a shock to us), I’ve been thinking about a simple and moving ritual I first learned about through fellow-celebrant, Amanda Waring, who also works in end of life care. She helps the dying to make peace with their bodies, by offering blessings and thanks to different parts of their bodies, one by one, for all they have given that person throughout their lifetimes.
She often begins with the hands - and hands for me hold immense power and symbolism. Lots of other celebrants do their own blessings of hands - it’s a simple idea and it has poignancy at ceremonies for every stage of life - from the cradle to the grave.
So, although I've just talked a lot about the final chapters of life, my own take on a blessing of hands is a version for a wedding. Like it or not love and death are inextricably linked. ‘Till death us do part.’ Whether you include that line in your wedding ceremony or not, it’s always there. In the shadows. We have one life. We give it to each other. Until the end. I talk a lot about love stories, weddings and marriage in many of my funeral services and - although you might not want your wedding ceremony to get too dark, for me a wedding is chapter one of a book whose ending we all know.I don’t think there’s much more romantic than loving someone until the day you die.
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