How to find and include readings in your wedding ceremony?

Guest post by Jessie Blum

Super-officiant and Offbeat Bride vendor Jessie Blum helped you with Wedding Ceremony 101 and having your friend officiate. Now she wants to help you find wedding readings.

My mom reading a Baha'i prayer
Kavisa‘s mom reading a Baha'i prayer.

When it comes to putting together a wedding ceremony, one of the first things that many people think of are readings. And there's a good reason why — so many of us have such a strong connection with words. Finding the right quotes, poems, or passages that capture a feeling or a moment can help us when we aren't feeling especially creative, or can't find our own words to share how we feel.

When it comes to putting together a wedding ceremony, using someone else's words in the form of a quote or passage can often help to move the theme of the ceremony along, or illustrate a point that you are having trouble getting down yourself. If you're planning on writing your own ceremony, I often suggest choosing one or two readings to serve as the Marriage Address and the Closing Remarks. In a completely secular way, using a poem or passage from your favorite novel can feel almost like a blessing when used at the end of a wedding — I think it has to do with the universal themes that good writing has.

But where can you find these perfect words to include in your ceremony? And how can you include them?

How to find a reading

If your wedding has a specific theme (like Renaissance, literature, the season you are being married), that's a great place to start. But as you're developing your ceremony, maybe you will find a theme that emerges, too.

I wrote a wedding for a couple who was going to be married in the backyard of their home, which they had completely renovated together to fit their blended family. I immediately jumped online and began searching for the perfect quote or poem about a home, or a house, and love.

Here's the quote I found, and how I incorporated it into the wedding:

As someone once said, “It takes hands to build a house, but only hearts can build a home.” [Our Couple] have opened their hearts not only to each other, but to everyone in their lives.  This love is what makes their house into a home.

A favorite of mine to include when I do a wine sharing ritual is a quote from Galileo I found: “Wine is sunlight held together by water.”

With a unique custom tea sharing ceremony, I used this quote from Thích Nhất Hạnh:

Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves — slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.

I had a couple last year who could not find a reading that they connected with, so I asked them for a few of their favorite authors, and found this beautiful poem by Neil Gaiman, which he had written for a friend's wedding. A little bit of creative Googling can go a long way. [Although do your research carefully: Google can be an inaccurate resource when it comes to quote attribution. -Eds.]

You can also find inspiration from words. If there is a poem or reading that you already know you want to include, why not extrapolate a theme from there? It's kind of a backwards version of when I search for a quote — instead of trying to find the theme of the ceremony as I write it, I use the theme I found in the reading and let that guide me.

A passage I just love is one from Louis de Berniere's novel, Corelli's Mandolin. This is a slightly edited version:

Love is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being “in love” which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.

I'll often then follow it up with these remarks, to tie it into the rest of the ceremony:

In your time together, your roots have grown towards each other, and your past, present, and future will be forever intertwined. Today, we are here to celebrate this commitment and devotion, as we together look towards the future you will share.

Where to use your readings in the ceremony

I like to incorporate the readings into the ceremony where they fit best. To throw a little ritual theory at you, each ceremony echoes the three stages outlined by Arnold Van Gennep, that echo the actual life passage that is being undergone: separation, transition, and incorporation. The de Berniere piece fits best in incorporation to me — taking the knowledge that the couple has learned about themselves in their time together, and looking towards the future that they will share to build a sustainable relationship. By placing the readings where they fit the best, your guests won't feel overwhelmed, confused, or (worst of all!) bored, because the readings will move the theme of the ceremony along.

Many ceremonies feel they need to include a reading or two, which is fine. Remember: this is your wedding, and there aren't really any requirements. We can make our own rules. Include the words that have meaning for you, and it will make your ceremony even more personal.


officiant: Eclectic Unions by Celebrant Jessie Blum

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Comments on How to find and include readings in your wedding ceremony?

  1. And don’t discredit song lyrics either. All of our shortlist ended up being song lyrics, because they seem to tell more of a story than traditional readings which I found seem to push values instead. In the end, we chose Come What May from Moulin Rouge because it’s a story of two people finding each other and taking on the world together, no matter what’s to come.

  2. We’re going to use an excerpt from Sleepwalk with Me by Mike Birbiglia, specifically the portion on pizza-flavored ice cream. It’s quirky and uses humor to hide the deeper thought, which definitely fits the two of us.

  3. We have a mix of serious and more playful readings, pretty eclectic but allows people in our lives to participate in a meaningful way.
    Foxtrot from a Play by WH Auden
    Epithalamium by Liz Lochhead
    Love at First Sight by Wislawa Szymborska
    A Lovely Love Story by Edward Monkton

  4. Goodness, one read of that reading from corellis mandolin and I was blubbing like a baby.

    Note to self; don’t do this when pmsing off your face.

  5. I’m looking for a wedding reading about overcoming adversity as a couple. We are a family that has been through so much in the last few years and our wedding is supposed to be our good thing, our silver lining, to cement our relationship and banish the negativity and show our strength and love. But I’m really struggling to find anything that really encapsulates that. If anyone has any suggestions I’d be so grateful!

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