The Personal Blog of Stephen Sekula

An Astrophysicist’s Wedding Invocation

I recently had the humbling experience of officiating the second wedding of my life. The first was my sister’s wedding. The second, just a week ago, was that of my most recent PhD student, Chris. This one was, however, unique: I had to do some writing for the ceremony.

Apparently, Chris and his fiancee, Kana, knew exactly what they were hoping to get when they invited me to officiate and to script the invocation for the ceremony. With their permission, I reproduce a version of that invocation here.

Welcome family and friends. We are gathered here today to witness and celebrate the union of Kana and Chris.

We come to this moment, a moment which is not the beginning of the story, but the culmination of a story that began long ago. As with any story, it is important to begin at the beginning. For, if we are to understand the context of this moment, we must appreciate how we all got here.

13.78 billion years ago, the universe came into existence. Within the first three minutes emerged the lightest atoms, hydrogen and helium. These, in turn, clumped into the first stars. Those stars were big, bright, blue, and beautiful. Their light shone fiercely in a once-dark cosmos. But they would not shine alone, and they would not shine forever.

Some forces can act over vast distances, like gravity and electromagnetism. Gravity, though the weakest of the known forces, forged the first stars. It pulled in primordial hydrogen and helium, which under immense pressure ignited in nuclear fusion and generated light. Light, the herald of electromagnetism, pushed back against gravity. In this dance – the inward pull of gravity’s bond and the outward push of light – were the first stars born. Many such stars were born in pairs, a union through gravity, bound to do si do about each other for all their lives.

Kana and Chris, each of you are bright and wonderful. Your individual light has brought joy to our existence, even before you were together. But your bond has made life even greater, for you and for us. It is the bond that you have forged, and which today you will strengthen, that we witness and celebrate.

Bonds are powerful things. Like the emotional bonds you share, the forces that bind the universe together and shape its fate are powerful and beautiful. Those bonds made this day possible.

The thing that birthed those first stars would also be their end … and our beginning. When their nuclear fuel was spent they collapsed and exploded. As they detonated out of their former existence, so were born in their fires the very things that bring us here today: carbon, nitrogen, oxygen … the elements of life. Their end would also trigger the formation of new stars, collapsing clouds of hydrogen, helium, and now new heavy elements.That cycle repeats to this day.

Those first stars entered retirement, having spent their short lives shining bright, now enjoyed life as new things: reborn as black holes or neutron stars. They didn’t retire alone, as many of them had been in partnerships with other stars.They would continue to orbit in the bond of gravity for millions, or billions, of years. But they drew closer and closer over time and they would eventually merge. The unions of neutron stars birthed the elements that became the building blocks of the rings that will be exchanged today: gold.

Kana and Chris: today you will symbolize your union with an exchange of gold rings. Like the emotional bonds we form, this metal is rare and precious. We give gold meaning because it is so hard to find and worth cherishing when we have it. Such metals are the symbol of our own bonds, one to another.

Bonds have held the universe together over distances great and small. The bonds of gravity, though weak, build stars and galaxies filled with stars. The bonds of electricity and magnetism give light to a dark cosmos. The subtle bonds in the hearts of every atom bring stars into fusion and transmute atoms. It is bonds that weave the beauty of the universe and the meaning of everyday existence.

In the same way, the emotional bonds we form keep us together wherever life may take us. Bonds make us whole when each of us is incomplete.

Chris and Kana: your story, and our story, began long ago. Bonds make and eventually break the stars. But their breaking is your making. Once you were separate people, but you found each other. You forged a bond that carried you through a pandemic, from California to Texas, through joy and hardship, and here today to this moment.

Your bond has brought wonder and meaning to you and to many others. When formed, it took energy to make it but it will take even more energy to break it. It is a bond that can withstand separation by continents, and though stretched it can strengthen … you will forever feel that need to be back together again, and when reunited you will be filled with joy and relief. This is the power of the union you forge together this day, one that we are proud to witness.

Today, you add one more bond to this universe. In doing so, you strengthen it one more time. We are grateful that you have chosen to share this moment with us, and we are proud to share this moment with you. Let us now proceed with the forging of this union.