To Magdalene, As You Marry


(This is the maid of honor speech I gave on July 5, 2014, the day these two kids got hitched. A day of indescribable joy. A number of folks asked for a copy of the speech after, but I’ve lost track of who; so I figured I would simply post it here.)

Dear Maggie,

To the best of my abilities, I want to take a moment to tell you how much I love you.

I may not make it through this little letter. But even if I were to jumble everything up with tears and fail miserably at delivering this speech, I do know that you will accept the love I have for you, just as you always have, with warmth and gentleness.

Maggie, my sister, it goes without saying that you have been the most constant source of love and joy in my life. From the time we were tiny children with unruly, huge hair until now, when we’re in our twenties with the same unruly, huge hair, you have been God’s love incarnate in my life, in a myriad of ways. You are my best friend, my beloved fellow pilgrim, my Bert, and a constant reminder of what it means to be a woman who lives in God’s will.

My happiest memories of our childhood are all built around you and the things we did together. We were forever exploring the woods, struggling to canoe upstream (a silent exercise in futility – maybe we were trying to channel Jack London?), commiserating over the dread that surrounded piano lessons, swimming in the river and catching creatures where-ever we found them and making “sanctuaries” for them, pretending to be down-and-out orphans who only had one another to rely on, climbing lilac trees, coming up with our own language, writing stories and poems together, delighting in fireflies and, of course, reading for countless hours side-by-side. We were never apart, and our hearts seemed to beat as one. I remember feeling safe next to you as we would fall asleep when we were children, and the cadence of our slumbering breaths was the same; and our cats would be wheezing quietly – asthmatically –  over our heads.

I have always known that I could share the deepest parts of my heart with you. We are souls set in the same key, and you have proven to be the most trustworthy keeper of my greatest joys and sorrows throughout all of our lives. I have only ever experienced love and acceptance from you, and immense mercy and encouragement.


As I write this speech, I’m realizing that words could never convey to you the intense joy I have experienced in watching you unfold into the woman you are on this day. God has blessed us with being able to share a beautifully spiritual friendship with one another, and the intimacy of our sisterhood is a result of the shared love we have had for Christ from the time we were small. His Spirit has always been the warmth, peace, and inspiration between us. We have had countless conversations about God together – conversations about suffering and mercy, families and relationships, mystery and paradox, joy and sorrow, prayer and intimacy. In His love for you he has granted you gifts of wisdom, fortitude, femininity, composure, intelligence, obedience, mercy, and constancy – all of which shine forth from you in a stunningly natural way, right from the very depths of your soul.

I have learned so much from you, Maggie, and the way you love God. You love God in everyone around you – most especially in those souls who are broken, abandoned, homeless, or lost. You do not flinch in the face of suffering but rather you rise to meet it, to embrace it, to share in it. Your capacity to receive and embrace suffering is, of course, accompanied by your beautiful capacity for great joy and merriment. You dearly love to laugh, and your buoyant demeanor puts everyone around you at ease. You look at people in a way that makes them feel more real, more wanted, more necessary.

I remember when Timothy came into your life, and I can still see the certain light that came into your eyes when you would tell me things about him. I remember the day when you told me you were in love with him – you looked as though sunbeams were coming out of your face. I sensed then, and know now, that this love was very special, very strong, and very fecund (I know you hate that word, but it fit the bill here).

I liked Tim right away – he took me out for lunch when you two first started dating, and I think we freaked each other out a bit with our “existential resonance” (remember, Tim? We went to Scaffidis and swapped stories of the metaphysical quandaries that haunted our childhoods while we enjoyed the best pasta in Steubenville). I also remember feeling that here was a man who could take care of my sister, a man who could step up to the calling to be a good steward of her soul, a man who would cherish every nook and cranny of her with tenderness and charity.

Timothy’s love has transformed you in many ways, Maggie. His love has made you more Maggie than ever. It has rendered you radiant, receptive, and wide-hearted, and it has lead both of you closer to the first Love of your hearts, that Love for whom you will always be restless on this side of heaven. I am deeply confident that your marriage will be a tangible witness to countless people about the covenant God drew all of us into when He wed himself to us through the sacrifice of the Cross. Already, you two have been an example of what a pure, ordered love looks like. You’ve chosen to save yourselves for one another, to say Yes to the sacrifice that true love demands, and to commit yourselves to a higher calling – to a love that gazes on the beloved with an eternal perspective. You’ve been living, breathing, human examples of the fact that God’s plan for the dignity of love between a man and a woman is not burdensome, imprisoning, or old hat. The vibrancy, freedom, holy excitement, and true serenity that exemplify your love go to show that God is never outdone in generosity, and that when we die to ourselves for the sake of another, and for the sake of his greater glory, he resurrects that love and gives it back to us one hundred fold, far more beautiful than we ever could have imagined.

To quote Merikakis: “We learn of God’s liberality with us when, after we have shown that we seek to serve only Him, he then overwhelms us with the very things we thought we had renounced forever, only raised to an infinitely higher potency of truth, perdurance, and delight.”


The best is yet to come for the two of you. I love you, Maggie. I love you, Tim. I wish you many years of creative love.


Album Review: “Home” by Josh Garrels


Home is the ninth release to date by Oregon-based folk singer-songwriter Josh Garrels, and it is a soulful gestalt that delivers both thematically and sonically. The 11 tracks that make up the album explore themes of pilgrimage, community, forgiveness, sonship, mercy, and the end of ordinary reality and reunion with the Divine, once again revealing Garrels’ to be a lyricist who is eschatologically astute without being over-complex, and numinous without being exclusionary. Musically, this album unfolds with elements of the familiar atmospheric, neo-electronica, synth-acoustic style redolent of his previous albums; but it it is set apart by a consistent soul-vibe which Garrels (with a voice contoured by a warm, warbling bassiness I can only describe as “molten” and a superhuman falsetto that would have given the late Jeff Buckley a run for his money) lays hold of with characteristic aplomb and ingenuity. Organs, casiotones, wurlitzers, horn ensembles, and other sparkly sounds imbue the album with the warmth of vintage funk. The sound is fresh (and attractive to any casual listener), but hardly incongruent with the musical prowess of Mr. Garrels, who seems to epitomize the sentiment “ever ancient, ever new,” leaving fans old and new alike curious and impressed.
Listening to this album, I imagine that Josh Garrels is a man who says what he means, and means what he says: the lyrics are simple, and articulated beautifully. They express particular sentiments without beating around any esoteric bushes. One of my favorite songs on the album, Colors, is something like a spiced-up, stripped-down Canticle of Daniel (sans dolphins):“So let all the creatures sing/praises over everything/colors are meant to bring/glory to the light,” his sings, with a swell of breath and horns that pneumenously beseeches all of creation to give praise and to rejoice in the coming culmination of paradise. The motif of praise and homecoming figures strongly in Heaven’s Knife, Morning Light, Always Be, Home At Last, At the Table, and Benediction, as well. Another theme that evidently inspires Garrels is the encounter of God within the context of human relationships: sonship, friendship, and spousal love are recurring expressions of the immediacy of Divinity in creation. Garrels cherishes these encounters as being forerunners of what is to come, even as they wound him. In the aforementioned Heaven’s Knife, he sings, “I was cut so deep/by Heaven’s knife/When I awoke from my sleep/O my Lord, she’s beautiful/she’s a part of me/she’s my wife.” Similarly, in The Arrow we hear “The arrow was sent to intervene/it pierced my bones and shook my from my dream/Lord You know exactly what I need/Wounds from a friend/a severe mercy”. You get the feeling that Garrels’ is cut from similar prophetic cloth as that of the likes of St. John of the Cross, who wrote extensively on the burning love of God for the soul, a love which longs for consummation: “O living flame of love/that wounds my soul in its deepest center/O sweet cautery, O beloved wound/that tastes of eternal life” (from St. John’s poem “The Living Flame of Love”). Garrels’ desire to “get in” , to “come home”, is woven throughout all of these songs, whether expressed through the prism of melancholy remembrance of mankind’s fractured relationship with his Creator, the struggle with sin, the transformative power of mercy, married love, or the quiet example of nature.
I read an interview wherein Garrels was described by his wife as being incapable of dishonesty in his music – he is as transparent as a stream. Each song expresses some self-actualizing experience or thought in this man’s life, who describes his own conversion as having been one marked by recalcitrance and heavy-duty interior realignment. While Garrels does wear his autobiographical heart on his sleeve in a number of the songs on this album, ultimately this collection is a work of thanksgiving and doxology, and it skirts away from the navel-gazing many meta-minded songwriters succumb to. Garrels’ eyes were evidently fixed upward when he wrote and produced these songs, and his hands-off (or, maybe more accurately, palms-open) approach to his own masterful, multifaceted artistry leaves the listener feeling receptive almost by accident. The fact that the album is sonically pumped full of soul and grooviness just furthers the upward movement of the themes contained within.
I recommend sitting down some Sunday morning with a mimosa, your breviary, a few good friends, and Josh Garrels’ latest. Leisure is meant to be a celebration of creation. Creation points us homeward, and home is where we want to be.