It was as beautiful as I could have hoped for on a muggy evening in North Florida. Venus, the planet of love and sensuality, was appearing in the sky to be so close to Jupiter, the planet of high intellect and spirituality, that they looked like dance partners. Jupiter would wink and Venus would glow. Being at the beach gave us a great opportunity to witness this phenomenon which some say may have been the star that guided the Magi to Jesus in Bethelehem some 2,000 years ago.
I'm glad that the movement of the planets seemed to correspond with the movement of legislation in Salt Lake City at the Episcopal Church's General Convention #78. Love and Higher Intellect appear coming closer together as the House of Bishops moved along legislation to allow Episcopal priests to perform marriages and not just bless them. That may seem really wonky, insider-baseball-played-with-a-verge for some readers, but there is a difference. In the latter case, lesbian and gay couples were allowed to get their necessary marriage license and then go to a civil authority to get married. Once that's done, they could seek a blessing on their marriage from a priest. In some dioceses, the bishops authorized a provisional blessing rite which allowed the priest to conduct a ceremony, but could not declare the couple married. Again, only a civil authority could do that. What's being proposed now are two trial liturgies that allow priests to actually marry and sign off on the state's paperwork for a couple. In addition, there is a change to the words as stated in the Book of Common Prayer about marriage being a "man and a woman," and offering an alternative opening of the service to something a little more palatable on the ears of a same-gender loving person. I, personally, have found it very hard to hear the story of the miracle of Cana as one that backed up heterosexual marriage instead of God taking what was undrinkable, sin-filled ritual water, and making it into a delicious Cabarnet. It's not a miracle about a wedding; it's showing the truth of how God can take the bad and make it good.
The votes on both resolutions were overwhelmingly positive. And there is an "out clause" provided to bishops with objections. They can refuse to let the liturgies be used, but they must help couples denied a chance to get married a way to have that happen. They can't simply say, "No" and be done with it without facing some serious problems. This gives comfort to some. For me, I pray for those LGBT couples living in dioceses with bishops who might take advantage of this "conscience clause." I see little difference between this and refusing to let divorced people remarry, or denying the sacrament of marriage to let an inter-racial or inter-faith couple wed. Those kinds of exceptions would not be tolerated by most people today. Why is this OK to do to lesbian and gay couples who, otherwise, meet all the requirements of the church's expectation of marriage?
The stars aligned to put love and higher intellect so close together. As these resolutions move on to the House of Deputies, I pray that the movement of the planets might mirror the movement of the hearts and minds of those in the chamber of clergy and lay deputies. And for the bishops: perhaps ponder that image of this astronomical occurence as a metaphor for this marriage debate. If this is a reproduction of the Star over Bethlehem, what a guide to be in the sky for the General Convention as it draws to a close on Friday!