My favorite thing in this world might just be a good symbol. Defined by Webster, a symbol is "a thing that represents or stands for something else, especially a material object representing something abstract."
The abstract is inherently hard to grasp, and so we humans have developed a complex language of symbols and metaphors to help us make sense of the biggest parts of our lives. I often tell the people I work with to look for the symbols, because having a symbol follow you through your experience can really enrich the meaning making. A couple that I recently had the honor of working with embodied this philosophy perfectly.
Let me first say, I adore these two and working with them was an absolute pleasure. I know Sarah and Rafael through the local storytelling show Testify and so I have known for some time Sarah has found a lot of joy in and a deep connection to birds. As she and Rafael grew in love, he also grew to share her deep respect for birds of all types. Which is one of the reasons that they chose to hold their intimate wedding ceremony at a local bird sanctuary. Chaetura Canyon is located just a 25-minute drive from downtown Austin, and while the facility is only open for special events and Travis Audubon programs, I recommend that you attend one of their programs if you love natural beauty.
Once Sarah and Rafael made the decision to include birds in their ceremony by holding it at a bird sanctuary, my work was set. How could we build a unique ceremony that incorporated their love of birds without beating the subject over the head? The beauty of a good symbol is that it has many interpretations; many points of potential connection. By subscribing specific meaning to a symbol, you can very quickly remove all its power.
When using a symbol in your ceremony, the goal should be to offer it to the event as openly and loosely as possible so that the symbol can expand and grow right along side you.
The task for me as their counselor/artisian/celebrant was to find out what the bird means to them and where they find personal connection to the symbol, and then to build slowly and carefully from there. We started by collecting images, songs, and words that spoke to how they felt for one another.
As I listened to them, I began to get some clarity. Rafael seemed to me to be a deeply visual person -- he connected with the natural beauty of the bird, with its softness and its motion. Sarah is a writer (check out her funny and insightful blog), so she seemed to really meet the bird in its story, in its character.
After sorting through all the media we had shared, we all landed on a short story that featured a bird and that felt right. Sarah wrote up a beautiful retelling of it and we included it as a reading in the ceremony. That was the only direct mention of birds in the whole ceremony and it (along with the beautiful setting) was just enough to honor the symbol out without pushing it in everyone's face.
Much like a bird, the symbol sat quietly and peacefully in the milieu of the event. The result was a wedding ceremony beautifully tailored to fit a creative and insightful couple. It was a joy to be a part of, and I wish these two "lovebirds" tons of goodness as they build their life together.