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Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Merry Wife of Paso Ancho

In his book The Bloody Tenent (1644) Roger Williams condemned clergy who act as “hirelings of the state” by signing legal documents such as marriage certificates. I have always agreed with his view that our spirituality is a private thing, and government has no business condoning (for instance) who may or may not marry.

Despite Williams, clergy in the United States officiate at a ceremony that is both official and religious, a fact that caused me constant discomfort during my thirty-five years as a pastor. In France, where I attended one wedding, like here in Panamá, there are two separate wedding ceremonies: civil magistrates in their offices see to the formal signing and filing of official legal documents, usually in their offices, and then the bridal party (if this is desired) hies itself to its house of worship for the religious ceremony.

Andrea and I had the pleasure of attending a wedding at the Roman Catholic church in Paso Ancho – a couple who have been living together for about half a century and have a considerable progeny finally decided to get married. The wedding was performed by an affable young priest in the castle-like church whose windows look out on the lovely hills surrounding the village. A rather good guitarist led several hymns, including one set to Paul Simon’s “The Sounds of Silence” (I wonder ifhe knows). There was a huge crowd of Panamanians, plus a handful of gringos, to witness the ceremony. They chitter-chattered, with toddlers wandering at will, nobody paying much attention to the priest – possibly because not many were observant Catholics; only a third or so took communion. But the priest had baskets passed to everyone take a collection – the Empire of Rome still exacts its tribute.

Our own day began early in the morning with my dressing myself in a suit and tie that I had bought at the Roman Catholic mission. By agreement, Andrea and I stayed apart so I would not see the bride beforehand .Friends John and Carmen drove me down to the notary’s office in the city of Davíd. On the way we stopped to buy a dozen roses, white and red, for me to present to the bride as grooms do in Panamá.

As always, it was hot and humid in Davíd. We waited in the waiting room and, in short order, Andrea arrived with family. Her gorgeous wedding dress (handmade by her sister) being saved for later, she was in a lovely gown. We were escorted into the small office of a pretty young notaría, with friends and family members crowding in as well as they could. The notaría began by reading various passages from Panamanian law about the sanctity of marriage. Then she had the couple recite vows – and Andrea and I both burst into tears, much to the amusement of those with us.

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As they come to me to be written, new chapters will be added to this blog, so stay tuned! But the blogs up to a certain point are now chapters are now in a book.

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