Languages: English & Portuguese


I’m Joanna and I’m from the United States: I grew up in the state of Michigan and began to branch out from there during my twenties. I lived the itinerant academic life, moving around for degrees and teaching gigs and research. Eventually, I came to Lisbon on a research grant to finish my Ph.D. thesis in architectural history, and I stayed for nine years and counting!

With my niece, one of my great loves.

Since finishing my PhD in 2016 I’ve been a freelance writer, an arts fundraiser, and a sort of culture agent here in Lisbon. I ran a couple of successful projects related to music and art. At each event – to introduce the featured artists’ performances – I used to give a little speech. I thought of them as brief “Dharma talks,” because I was always inspired by the application of Buddhist philosophy to life experience. Sometimes I talked about art or the economy or sustainability, but mostly, I was really talking about love. Love is basically my favorite subject to think about, to write about, to talk about. It’s all about love, in the end, if you ask me.

Not surprisingly, I was the celebrant for my own sister’s wedding in 2015. It was such a beautiful experience, but I knew that it would be even better, and I would be able to contribute even more to a ceremony when I didn’t have the added emotional responsibilities of being the sister of the bride! And here I am today! Seriously, it’s basically the perfect job for me. I get to meet beautiful people like you, and hear your stories; I get to think about passion and devotion and belonging; and I get this incredible honor of speaking to you in front of your friends and families, about the commitment you’re making to one another.

Dancing like no one is watching!

What is my favorite kind of ceremony?

For me, it doesn’t really matter which rituals a couple chooses, or what spiritual belief system guides a ceremony, or how many people are involved. My favorite ceremonies are the ones with a “backstage” spirit. By this, I mean that it’s great when the couple and the wedding party and even the guests all seem to understand that this isn’t some on-stage performance for applause, and we’re not here to meet some external expectations about how it’s supposed to look. Instead, there’s this feeling of intimacy and authenticity and humility, a sort of rawness, when everyone understands how real we all must be, to make these moments count. This attitude comes with an ease and a sense of humor, as well as a sense of reverence – and this attitude almost guarantees that everyone will have a great time on an unforgettable day. This is the kind of ceremony that leaves people remembering it as the best wedding they’ve ever been to. 

What’s the most important thing for a couple to consider when creating a ceremony?

Since it’s possible (and common!) to marry legally without a wedding, I think it’s really important for each couple to get clear about the point of the ceremony: why are we all here? What’s the underlying intention – or more specifically, what’s the purpose that this ceremony is intended to serve? 

So I think that every couple should get clear about their intentions, and choose a celebrant who understands this and resonates with it – and then collaborate with their celebrant to build a ceremony that works. 

The honor of marrying my sister to the love of her life.

Parting words

For my couples, I wish for them to know in their hearts that the work of cultivating and maintaining true intimacy with our chosen partner, over a long time, is one of the most difficult challenges we’ll take on in life. And it’s also the most richly rewarding. 

That is, we should put the romantic fantasies aside: true love is spiritual warriorship. The “enemy forces” we struggle against are the ghosts and demons and monsters within ourselves. The person we choose to love is our comrade-in-arms and we promise to join this battle together, more courageous side by side. 

Aux armes!