Over Spring Break, I accompanied my family on a journey to attend a wedding in Searcy, Arkansas. Along the way, we visited the monument in Little Rock built to celebrate the life and contributions of an American president; from there, we spent two days and nights atop a mountain overlooking the Arkansas River Valley. And, finally, we traveled along the highways and back roads of the "Natural State" to witness and affirm the union of two young people dear to our hearts.

The Nuptials:

It was a classically simple but elegant church wedding in the heartland. The bride wore white, the men wore black tuxedos, and the bridesmaids wore tasteful strapless red dresses. The groom had known the minister for all of his remembered-life. The ceremony was personal and intimate--and traditional. The preacher, to no one's surprise, emphasized Paul's timeless expository essay on love written for the Church at Corinth nearly two millennia ago. They exchanged vows, lit a unity candle, and two became one.

None of this was new to me. I had seen and heard all of it many times before--but for some reason, this particular union of souls struck at my emotions in an extraordinary way.

Almost from the outset, and to my complete surprise, I felt my throat constrict and my eyes fill with tears. Struck by the gravity of the ceremony, I suddenly understood why so many religious traditions identify this ritual as a sacrament; it finally occurred to me why men and women go to the trouble and expense of standing up before God and man to make this commitment in such a purposefully public way.

My moment of clarity commenced as I watched my young cousin take a poignant moment to say goodbye to his mother, step back, and stand upright at the end of a church aisle waiting for his new life to begin. For the remainder of the ceremony, I was never able to fully regain my placidity.

Why do we cry at weddings?

Perhaps it is a combination of loss, anxiety, joy, and a momentary realization of how fragile we are.

Loss: A boy is gone. A man with new priorities takes his place. For the parents of that boy, they enter an entirely new stage of life. They cease to be primary caretakers. They are no longer the most important person in the life of the person who is most important to them. This must be a bone-shattering blow.

Marriage for the participants exists as a moment of surrender. Two become one, which must necessarily mean that individuality is submerged into union, just as full independence is forever sacrificed for the good of the new amalgamation.

Anxiety: Marriage is a leap of faith. One person places his life in the hands of another person about whom he knows very little. This is the most important decision in life, and, at the climactic moment of no-return, there is absolutely no way to know with certainty the wisdom of the choice.

The preacher spoke of love as a decision--not a feeling. The question is not whether they love one another, he said. Of course, they do. The question is whether they will love each other.

Love is a euphoric excitation--but it must also be a long term act of will.

Joy: Love between a man and a woman truly is God's greatest gift. Marriage also signals the beginning of the process of parenthood, which is another of God's most sublime dispensations. Parents sincerely desire this kind of love for their children whom they love. Young people instinctively anticipate this blessing with great delight. Jubilation.

Sobering Realization: How fragile we are individually. We are so desperately in need of one another. We need community. We need caring neighbors, a family of faith, and blood kin. Without the love of God, family, and community, we are hopelessly lost.

The marriage ceremony brings together those diverse feelings of love, joy, fear, and gratitude. Life is a precious gift. Love is an intoxicant and a safety net and a miracle cure. Family is a shelter against the cruelties of life. Matrimony is the renewal of the incredibly powerful and necessary bulwark of family, while at the same time marriage is held together by the ever increasingly fragile threads of love, commitment, and fealty to tradition.

Why was this ceremony so powerful for me? Perhaps it was the fatigue of the journey. Perhaps it was the youth, promise, and earnestness of the couple. Perhaps it was the love of family so thick in the sanctuary. Perhaps it was maturity, having lived long enough and been married long enough to understand the miraculous transforming power of the institution. Or perhaps it was the full realization that I had stumbled on to the good, the true, and the beautiful in a church in Searcy, Arkansas. You can imagine my surprise at finding it there.