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TAC column

Unexpected Rainbows in Vermont
by William Cleary

I write this as I am on my way to church for a same-sex wedding rehearsal. Tomorrow morning is the official ceremony, called "Civil Union" in Vermont. It will be civil, for sure, but it will also be religious. Don and Fernando are about the most religious people I have ever met. Fernando is a rosary-saying Catholic, and Don is a mystic with two beautiful daughters who will be all dressed up for the wedding along with all of Fernando's Spanish-speaking family.
        My role is the music, and their choice for the last hymn is "De Colores," a musical celebration of the diversity of colors and gifts -- in the human race. Without diversity in color, we would never know a rainbow, of course. Without diversity in human voices, we could never hear harmony. Unison is great, but harmony brings something additionally rich, unimaginably rich if you've never heard it.
        It's time for the Church to imagine it, I think.
        I was once a Jesuit and a priest, and when I "returned to the lay state," I joined with other people on the same journey in a national organization that certifies me legally for ministry. So in Vermont I occasionally preside legally at Civil Unions, and have done some 30 of them in the three years since the law passed.
        At one of my first, I met the lovely women partners, 30-somethings, at the door of the Unitarian Church. They were from Detroit and had been bicycling in the early morning. "We have to change," they said. "Good, I'll meet you in the sanctuary," I said and went to pass the time at the piano. The church was serenely empty, the sun slanting in. They arrived in long dresses.
        "Let's talk about this a bit," I suggested. "Is anybody religious?"
        "We're Catholic," said one. "We are in church together every Sunday."
        My jaw dropped.
        "I even went to confession about it," said the other. "Told the priest first about my lesbian relationship, but he said, 'Don't even bring it up. I can't say that's wrong.'"
        That about floored me. I asked if they wanted to walk up the aisle while I played a prelude. They laughed, "Sure!" I started "Finlandia," and up they came in a kind of cloud, hand in hand, surely imagining a packed church, as beautiful a wedding scene as anyone ever cried at.
        We met at the head of the aisle, and, with candles lit, went slowly through a ritual I have adapted from the traditional wedding vows: "For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health...." Their tears almost broke me up, but I got through it in the end laughing and they did too.
        With the words over, I announced: "Now the crowd wants to see a nice slow promenade out" and, imagining applause, went back to the piano and played "The Entertainer." When I looked up, there was a huge clinch going on in the back of the church. That did smash me up and the thought of it still does but I played the song to the end.
        The Ancient Church will surely be around to play the song to the end, enriched eventually with both new harmonies and surprise rainbows. Here's my prayer: "It's your world after all, Holy Mystery. We don't know why there's so much love, so much magnetism, so many unexpected sacraments, but we give thanks for it. It keeps us astonished. It constantly pushes out the boundaries of experience, and opens our hearts to much more of everything good. You embarrass us, dear God, with your irreverence toward our traditions. We don't know how to explain your ways to our children! But with your help we can learn, learn to widen our hearts, to open new windows and hear some harmonies we never expected to hear, with ever-amazing rainbows across the sky that mix colors like never before, telling us, perhaps, at last the darkness is over." #

        Bill Cleary's books on prayer can be found at www.clearyworks.com.

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