Vows to the Mystery

Think back to the very beginning of something you were excited about. Maybe you’d just gotten a great new job, or started dating someone you were really interested in. Or maybe it was a new artistic practice, or a new identity you were stepping into.

Whatever it was, you probably felt a sort of electric joy going into it. But if you were aware enough I’ll bet yet felt fear, too.

Because any time you commit to something, you invite uncertainty into your life. No matter how optimistic you are, you actually have no idea what this new thing will entail—losses that blindside you, rewards you didn’t expect, paths opening and closing in places you never would have thought to look.

When Elizabeth and I were planning our wedding ceremony, we wanted to acknowledge the uncertainty we were courting—the unknowable decades ahead, the mysterious ways we’d both change, the inevitable seasons of exile and loss right alongside those of connection and joy.

So we decided to say a second set of vows. We called them our Vows to the Mystery.

We used the cardinal directions—with their symbolic connection to the four seasons—to help us imagine what might lay ahead. I wrote a short poem for each, and after each one we were asked if we promised to meet that season “as best we can.”

I hope these vows help you embrace the mysteries in your life, too, as best you can.

South

Turn with us to the South,
where the sun climbs
to the sky’s peak
and floods the world
with light and warmth,
inviting the hidden sweetness
of all things
to grow full and heavy
on the branches of the world.

You will know
the Summers of life,
when the sun and the shade,
the heat and the breeze,
the berries softening along the trail
all seem to conspire
for your satisfaction,
when the world’s gifts overflow
the basket of your needs,
and your deep practice
is to rest in this abundance
with gratitude—even knowing
that the season will pass.

West

Turn with us to the West,
where the sun falls
into the horizon’s open arms
and the rising tide
of cold and dark
sends the shiver of change
through every living thing.

You will know
the Autumns of life,
when cherished pieces
of your world and yourselves
start to wilt and wither,
when what has sustained you
is slipping away,
and only your faith—
that renewal
is the dancing partner of loss—
helps you trust
that the seeds of your
future wholeness
have already been planted.

North

Turn with us to the North,
where silence fills
the dark globe of the night,
and the cold wind
racing unchecked
through skeleton trees
sends all the plants and creatures
to seek shelter
in each other and the earth.

You will know
the Winters of life,
when the dark nights of loss
stretch endlessly around you
and even the days are cold enough
to test the resilience
of your heart,
when the work of survival
takes all you have to give,
and you need the warmth
of each other’s bodies
to make it through the night.

East

Turn with us to the East,
where the light grows
like a promise
behind the mountains,
drawing up from the earth
the delicate hopes
of new leaves,
new flowers opening,
new eyes alive to the world
for the first time.

You will know
the Springs of life,
when the hidden seeds
of your deep longing
finally push their first shoots
into the light of your days,
and your sacred responsibility
is to nurture
this fragile growth
even as it carves and moulds you
in frightening, wondrous ways.

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