Ecclesiastes: “I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. . . So I commend enjoyment, for there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves, for this will go with them in their toil through the days of life that God gives them under the sun.”
John 2: “On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.”
Jesus’ first miracle, according to the Gospel of John, happens at a wedding, at a party. The story is strange: the wine runs out, Jesus is rude to his mother, and once Jesus acts, the wine runs freely and the party continues. Jesus would have known these ancient words of Wisdom from Ecclesiastes: “for there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves.” What is sacred and miraculous about this story is not only the power of Jesus’ action to turn water into wine, but to do so at a wedding! Weddings are events when we can experience the divine power in wine. In Jesus’ time, not unlike like our own, weddings were celebrations of wine, great food, love, and community.
Two summers ago, Sheila and LuAnn, two close friends of ours, invited me and my husband, Gary for a vacation out in the Hills. Sheila, a visual artist, and LuAnn, a palliative care physician, share not only our love for Friday night card games but also our passion for road trips. We wanted to go to the Black Hills for rest, hiking, biking, and walks with our three dogs. Four adults, three large dogs (two Standard Poodles and a Goldendoodle), and enough gear and food for a week were packed tightly into a giant SUV. And on the back, two bicycles hung from the rack. We left on our westward adventure.
I knew that Sheila and Lu had wanted to get married. When the Supreme Court legalized same sex weddings, I wondered if the time would be right for them. Knowing these two women very well, I realized that if they tried to actually plan a wedding they would never get it done. If this wedding was to take place, I knew there might need to be another plan in place.
And so the plan, which was clearly just in my mind, began to develop. About an hour into the trip, we stopped in Mitchell for last minute supplies. I asked them: “Why don’t you just get married during this marvelous summer week in July? While we are out in the Hills? It’s a great time to have a party.” Secretly, I had planned this conversation a few days before we left. I mentioned that I had my ordination papers with me and could easily prove to a Clerk of Court that I could marry people in South Dakota. They laughed a lot and thought for a few minutes. “Really, this could happen,” I said. A wedding. Indeed.
Within a couple of days, the paperwork had been filed in Deadwood at the Clerk of Courts office, the wedding vows written, and the informal service was planned by the two officiants: me and LuAnn’s sister-in-law. On the morning of the wedding, we drove to Cheyenne Crossing, a rather famous local cafe, where we all indulged in a breakfast of eggs, hash browns, bacon and strong coffee. A great beginning to the day.
Sheila and Lu had chosen the Pathways Spiritual Sanctuary for their wedding. The sanctuary sits in the higher meadows of the Black Hills where daisies bloom by the thousands, aspen and pines share the hillside, and anyone can walk the sacred paths. We parked at the small lot and walked through an enormous wooden door, clearly monastic in its design, that served as an entrance into the spiritual landscape. There were six humans and four dogs.
The humans were decked out in their summer finery–favorite shorts, shirts, tennis shoes, and baseball hats. The dogs sported colorful bandanas. Lu Ann’s family had a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel and she, too, joined us for the celebration. The four canines served as both attendants and guests. We found a perfect spot for the ceremony: a grassy opening blooming with daisies, under the shade of aspen trees. Cameras were ready, dogs were seated, and the prelude was played on the ukulele by Gary. Sheila and Lu walked through the carpet of daisies and came forward to the officiants. Vows were made, texts were read by family members, songs were sung, and everything was pronounced official. We even toasted the newlyweds with champagne.
If Jesus were at that wedding that day, I think it would have been his suggestion that the reception happen at the Moonshine Gulch Saloon in Rochford, South Dakota. Rochford is an unincorporated community of about 10 people who live in this northern part of the Black Hills year round. The “town” has a bar, a library that opens about one day a week, a small store called the Small of America, a church, a few houses, and a scraggly black and white dog that guards the Saloon. The building that is now the Moonlight Gulch Saloon has stood since 1910. It has a tin roof, a few lawn chairs, an old picnic table outside, and a ceiling full of old hats and other odds and ends. Bicyclists stop there for a break on the Mickelson Trail, and motorcyclists come during the summer to toss back a few beers. However, most who come are locals.
We had reserved the picnic table outside the Moonshine Gulch Saloon for the reception. On the saloon’s Facebook page of the Saloon, someone wrote: “A great place to hang your hat…literally. The food is cheap and greasy, the atmosphere is perfect for those who haven’t taken a bath in months, and if you’re a coal miner’s daughter…this place is for you!” We couldn’t have found a better place for six humans, four dogs, and a few locals, including the owner’s dog. We had even dressed correctly for the occasion, although we had taken a shower that morning.
The Miller Lite banner, decorated with a motorcycle, provided the background for all of the reception pictures. Betsy, the owner of the bar, went back into the back of the bar and brought out some fine liquor so that we could offer a toast to the newlyweds. She had saved her “good stuff” for events like this. We had hamburgers, hot dogs, lots of French fries, and a cake we had brought along. The day ended with the lighting of a Rochford Candle–a hollowed-out log, soaked in something, that burned furiously when lit. Strangers, family, four dogs, and the owner of the bar, toasted once again to the amazing day.
“For there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves.” The infinite meets finite in the celebration of eating and drinking with the finest of companions–human and canine. Words from Wisdom meet in the miracle of love and wine.
Listen to Dogs, by Gary Pederson, a 3-Part Invention inspired by our three dogs running and fighting playfully.