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Readings For Humanist Weddings

 Here’s the good news: you can choose any reading you would like for a humanist wedding ceremony. And the even better news: part of my role as your humanist celebrant is to help you source the ones that you love the most. Readings in humanist ceremonies are largely non-religious − however, if a religious or spiritual reading is significant and appropriate for your wedding for a cultural or sentimental reason, I’m happy to frame it in an appropriate way within the ceremony to explain why it is included. If it matters to you, it matters to me, and it must be in your wedding ceremony.

Below is a selection of my own favourite wedding readings. There’s a mixture of funny, touching, quirky, heartfelt and profound poems and prose − you are bound to find at least one that you utterly love.



This is everything I have to tell you about love: nothing.
This is everything I’ve learned about marriage: nothing.

Only that the world out there is complicated,
and there are beasts in the night, and delight and pain,
and the only thing that makes it okay, sometimes,
is to reach out a hand in the darkness and find another hand to squeeze,
and not to be alone.

It’s not the kisses, or never just the kisses: it’s what they mean.

Somebody’s got your back.
Somebody knows your worst self and somehow doesn’t want to rescue you
or send for the army to rescue them.

 It’s not two broken halves becoming one.
It’s the light from a distant lighthouse bringing you both safely home because home is wherever you are both together.

So this is everything I have to tell you about love and marriage: nothing, like a book without pages or a forest without trees.

Because there are things you cannot know before you experience them.
Because no study can prepare you for the joys or the trials.
Because nobody else’s love, nobody else’s marriage, is like yours,
and it’s a road you can only learn by walking it,
a dance you cannot be taught,
a song that did not exist before you began, together, to sing.

 And because in the darkness you will reach out a hand,
not knowing for certain if someone else is even there.

And your hands will meet,
and then neither of you will ever need to be alone again.

And that’s all I know about love.


I rely on you
like a Skoda needs suspension
like the aged need a pension
like a trampoline needs tension
like a bungee jump needs apprehension

I rely on you
like a camera needs a shutter
like a gambler needs a flutter
like a golfer needs a putter
like a buttered scone involves some butter

I rely on you
like an acrobat needs ice cool nerve
like a hairpin needs a drastic curve
like an HGV needs endless derv
like an outside left needs a body swerve

I rely on you
like a handyman needs pliers
like an auctioneer needs buyers
like a laundromat needs driers
like The Good Life needed Richard Briers

I rely on you
like a water vole needs water
like a brick outhouse needs mortar
like a lemming to the slaughter
Ryan’s just Ryan without his daughter
I rely on you

Touched By An Angel - Maya Angelou

We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.

Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free


Have you got a biro I can borrow?
I’d like to write your name
On the palm of my hand, on the walls of the hall
The roof of the house, right across the land
So when the sun comes up tomorrow
It’ll look to this side of the hard-bitten planet
Like a big yellow button with your name written on it 

Have you got a biro I can borrow?
I’d like to write some lines
In praise of your knee, and the back of your neck
And the double-decker bus that brings you to me
So when the sun comes up tomorrow
It’ll shine on a world made richer by a sonnet
And a half-dozen epics as long as the Aeneid 

Oh give me a pen and some paper
Give me a chisel or a camera
A piano and a box of rubber bands
I need room for choreography
And a darkroom for photography
Tie the brush into my hands 

Have you got a biro I can borrow?
I’d like to write your name
From the belt of Orion to the share of the Plough
The snout of the Bear to the belly of the Lion
So when the sun goes down tomorrow
There’ll never be a minute
Not a moment of the night that hasn’t got you in it


There is a kind of love called maintenance
Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it;

Which checks the insurance, and doesn’t forget
The milkman; which remembers to plant bulbs;

Which answers letters; which knows the way
The money goes; which deals with dentists

And Road Fund Tax and meeting trains,
And postcards to the lonely; which upholds

The permanently rickety elaborate
Structures of living, which is Atlas.

And maintenance is the sensible side of love,
Which knows what time and weather are doing
To my brickwork; insulates my faulty wiring;
Laughs at my dryrotten jokes; remembers
My need for gloss and grouting; which keeps
My suspect edifice upright in air,
As Atlas did the sky.


If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happens better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty.

Joy is not made to be a crumb.


let’s get married on a Tuesday

with a six-piece from Harold’s as our witness.

let’s get married at noon and then again at three-thirty

when the school day lets out and a whole block

of dandelions flower our ceremony. let’s

get married again under a full moon and then again

under a new moon, so every celestial being

can witness our vows, love, one wedding

isn’t enough for me. I want to propose

again and again, on a Wednesday because

you did the dishes, on a Thursday because

we woke up next to each other again, say yes.

say less. i’ll be on one knee asking you

to share in the delight of knowing each other.

let’s get married because Chicago, because

St. Louis is a city on a map, because your name

is my favorite word. let’s get married because

there are vows we can only make in the dark.

because we don’t need a witness to say i do.

let’s get married because it is raining

and that’s supposed to be good luck. mi amor,

mi cielo, mi vida, let’s get married

in every language we can and can’t speak.

under every god. my god, the way you look

at me is a miracle i believe in. because

we get one life. one. say yes. then, say yes

again. let’s get married after we get married

because underneath every word i write

there is one word i carve into every desk.

one word i tag onto every building on every block

of my heart. marry me: make me (no, not complete),

but a little more alive than i’ve ever been.


Stay near to me and I’ll stay near to you – 

As near as you are dear to me will do,

Near as the rainbow to the rain,

The west wind to the windowpane,

As fire to the hearth, as dawn to dew.


Stay true to me and I’ll stay true to you – 

As true as you are new to me will do,

New as the rainbow in the spray,

Utterly new in every way,

New in the way that what you say is true.


Stay near to me, stay true to me, I’ll stay

As near, as true to you as heart could pray.

Heart never hoped that one might be

Half of the things you are to me – 

The dawn, the fire, the rainbow and the day.


I convened an academic symposium
and gathered together the great and the good
from a wide variety of disciplines
to consider the question, ‘What is love?’

The philosophers said we must first start with Plato.
The historians showed how it had changed over time.
The chemists spoke of oxytocin and dopamine.
The psychologists thought it was all in the mind.

The political scientists declared it undemocratic.
The sociologists deemed it a social construct.
The economists said that nothing else mattered
except for how little there was, or how much.

The linguists explained the word came from Old English.
The theologians claimed it came straight from God.
The media studies professors weren’t present
but they said they’d send their thoughts in a vlog.

The anthropologists spoke of love across cultures.
The mathematicians tried to work out its square root.
The neuroscientists pointed at MRI scans.
The musicologists played its song on a lute.

The art historians said it was all about perspective.
The geologists believed it from molten rock hewn.
The classicists read extracts from Sappho and Ovid.
The astrophysicists thought it to do with the moon.

The geographers tried to map all its contours.
The literature scholars quoted Auden and Keats.
At the end we were no nearer an answer;
we reconvene on Wednesday next week.


A great deal of mad balls is written about love – and, more specifically, how to recognise it when it arrives. Depending on what we’re reading, we are told things about astrological compatibility, birth order and physical types, shared values and cultural sympathies.

Love is often presented as something that can be recognised if you remorselessly grill your prospective partners with some kind of gigantic tick-list on which you need to hit 70 per cent like-for-likes (“I loved the second series of Saved by the Bell, too”) before you can safely say whether you love someone or not.

Well, it’s all balls. At the age of 42, I can tell you there is just one thing that will tell you’ve found “The One”.

It is this: the primary location for foolproof love detection is in your nose. Forget about the heart or the crotch, both of which are, sadly, idiot organs, easily fooled by a bunch of flowers or a vibrating egg. No, it’s your nose you want to listen to. You can’t fool a nose. Your nose knows what’s going on. I can tell you right now, you will know you’ve finally found the love of your life because they just … smell great.


Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.


Love is awful. It’s awful. It’s painful. It’s frightening. It makes you doubt yourself, judge yourself, distance yourself from the other people in your life. It makes you selfish. It makes you creepy, makes you obsessed with your hair, makes you cruel, makes you say and do things you never thought you would do.

It’s all any of us want, and it’s hell when we get there. So no wonder it’s something we don’t want to do on our own. I was taught if we’re born with love then life is about choosing the right place to put it. People talk about that a lot, feeling right, when it feels right it’s easy. But I’m not sure that’s true. It takes strength to know what’s right. And love isn’t something that weak people do. Being a romantic takes a hell of a lot of hope. I think what they mean is, when you find somebody that you love, it feels like hope.

I Take – Imtiaz Dharker

I take
your body where love takes place
I take
your mouth where my life takes shape
I take
your breath which makes my space
I take
you as you are, for good
I take
you with open arms, to have
I take
you to have
and to hold but not to hold
too hard
I take
you for farther for closer
for sooner for later
death tries to get us
and we laugh and we stall
and we tell it to call us some other
fine day because we are busy today
taking our tea with buttered
hope and
I take
I take

From "Big Questions from Little People and Simple Answers from Great Minds" - Jeanette Winterson

You don’t fall in love like you fall in a hole.

You fall like falling through space. It’s like you jump off your own private planet to visit someone else’s planet. And when you get there it all looks different: the flowers, the animals, the colours people wear.

It is a big surprise falling in love because you thought you had everything just right on your own planet, and that was true, in a way, but then somebody signaled to you across space and the only way you could visit was to take a giant jump. Away you go, falling into someone else’s orbit and after a while you might decide to pull your two planets together and call it home.

And you can bring your dog. Or your cat. Your goldfish, hamster, collection of stones, all your odd socks. (The ones you lost, including the holes, are on the new planet you found.)

And you can bring your friends to visit. And read your favourite stories to each other. And the falling was really the big jump that you had to make to be with someone you don’t want to be without. That’s it.

P.S. You have to be brave.


Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need –

a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.