—The aisle tells the story of one man and one woman.
The bridal veil, the white wedding dress, the rings, the kiss… I have always wondered at the rich symbolism of the wedding, especially the traditional Western wedding. But one tradition fascinates me the most, and it’s the tradition of the bride walking down a central aisle. No matter if it’s in a church, or in a civil ceremony hall, or outdoors in a garden, the bride almost always walks down an aisle.
Why does the bride traditionally walk down the aisle?
I’m not shy to say that it was actually the recent iron-hot debate over gay marriage which has been sweeping across the world that makes me even more fascinated with this tradition. Gay activists tell the world that gay “marriage” is just any marriage. They try to imitate one-man-one-woman marriage, but struggle, by first and foremost struggling to even make sense of the traditional wedding ceremony applied to themselves!
Read through online gay wedding forums where gays discuss planning their weddings and you will sense their frustration. Their frustration heightens, of course, where they try to make sense of the practice of someone walking down the aisle. One lesbian puts it well: “My fiancée and I are wondering what exactly to do for the ceremony. We know how a heterosexual marriage goes. Males already up front, music, flower girls/ring bearers, bridesmaids, bride. But how does it apply to us?” Another lesbian also senses the same awkwardness. After mumbling confidently how she has figured out almost everything about her “traditional” wedding with her bride-to-be, she confesses, “There is one ‘tradition’ that we, out of necessity, still need to tweak. And honestly I have no idea what we’re [sic] going to do. It’s the tradition of walking down the aisle.”
There are of course as many responses and comments on these forums as you can think of. The two brides walk one after the other? Then the second bride looks like an anti-climax or after thought. Make two aisles and each bride walks down one? Then who should the guests focus on? Two brides walk together down one aisle? Then good luck for finding a venue with such a wide aisle, and more importantly, you lose the symbol of walking in apart and walking out together. What happens to two grooms? Does one walk down the aisle or both of them, and escorted by whom? Their mothers? Oh, what about both brides or grooms suddenly appearing at the front when the ceremony starts? Someone in a forum even suggested having a shifting floor! Are you talking about a show or a wedding?
After years of legalising same-sex marriage in some countries, so far, for almost every suggestion they could come up with about how two same-sex wedding parties can enter the ceremony venue, they seem to intuitively find it inadequate to convey the meaning of marriage. (And I agree, it’s probably because gay “marriage” does not convey the meaning of marriage in the first place.)
Of course, in their discussions, one theme constantly pops up, and that’s “you can do whatever suits you best,” or “you should do what works for you two.” Exactly. Whatever suits you best or works for you two. You can tell that anything these gays envision for their gay wedding ceremonies is not something that will become a long-term tradition, or a common practice that can be shared and understood by others, the way the traditional wedding can.
So why does the bride traditionally walk down the aisle, with the groom always already waiting in front?
Why? The answer is Genesis 2, of course, the answer (in my opinion) to all questions about human sexuality and marriage! The aisle is, in fact, an re-enactment of the Genesis story. The bride is walked down the aisle, because one particular bride was once walked down a path very similarly…
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.
Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’
So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.
The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him.
So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.
Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.
~Genesis 2: 15, 18-24
So there was an Original Solitude, using the words of John Paul II, i.e. man alone with God. When the love story in Genesis 2 began, the man was already with God, alone. Therefore in the wedding, the groom always already abides at the altar before the ceremony starts. Then the officiant (representing authority) officially starts the ceremony by inviting the bride to enter, and the woman is brought, in the arms of the one who raised her, to the man. The aisle is therefore the very journey in which Eve was led by God to the long-awaiting Adam, just before he would proclaim “At last!” The aisle stands for the moment when creation held its breath waiting for God to present His crowned gift to man—the other sex.
The wedding beautifully speaks the story that future sons of Adam would similarly see the daughters of Eve walked down a path, with the same overwhelming joy and excitement of the first Adam, and the rest of creation would continue to marvel at the beauty of Eve as she walks down.
The frustrated lesbian on the gay wedding forum was right: the bride walking down the aisle is the climax of the whole ceremony, but she doesn’t know that it’s so only because Eve being escorted to Adam was the very climax of the God’s creation. The ordinary aisle is dramatic because it’s the journey of Eve to Adam.
And more, after the vows, lifting of the veil and the kiss, and the officiant declared the man and woman husband and wife, they walk out the church in unison: the man leaves his previous solitary life behind him, and becomes one with the woman. Here, the aisle is the new journey that man and woman would now travel together, forever as one body. The aisle is first the journey of Eve, but it’s also the journey of Adam and Eve united.
Are the flower petals dropped by the flower girl a gentle hint of an Eden pathway? And are all the bouquets and flower decorations traditionally used in weddings there to paint a garden scenery? I don’t know. But it is clear that the bride traditionally walks down the aisle, because it’s in Genesis 2. Next time if you read Genesis carefully, you will see the aisle in the story, too.
Now with Genesis 2 in mind, it is also clear why traditionally groom and bride don’t see each other on the wedding day before the ceremony: the drama of the aisle consists in that it stands for the very moment when Adam first caught a glimpse of Eve, possibly among the bushes of Eden, and became overwhelmed.
So it all makes perfect and beautiful sense. Change it to a same-sex wedding, however, and you kill all the drama. There is no meaning in a person being walked down to someone of the same sex waiting in front, when there is always the question as to why the two shouldn’t switch roles. And without Genesis 2, there is simply no story to tell about the aisle. Of course a gay couple can copy the tradition, but again there’s no reason why this would make sense to other gay couples.
The story of a woman being brought to a man, is not only not sexist, but it’s the most intriguing story of a woman cherished and hailed as the centre of all creation; and it is the only story which speaks the fundamental sexual relatedness of humanity. If the woman was not taken out of the man, there would be no reason why man and woman can be so naturally a gift to each other—there would be no reason why any of us would want to relate to another person sexually at all.
The tradition of the bride walking down the aisle tells the story of, and only the story of, man and woman becoming one. It does not tell any other story, but only the touching story of man originally in solitude, but finally united with the woman at God’s altar.
The LORD God… brought her to the man. ~ Genesis 2:22
(I do not own the photos.)