“Then the Lord God said, “It’s not good that the human is alone. I will make them a helper that is perfect for them.” (Genesis 2:18)
Tomorrow is both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. I’ve joked that I will impose the ashes on people’s foreheads in the shape of a heart.
It’s actually a fitting coincidence, when you think about the story of Saint Valentine. He was allegedly martyred by the Emperor Claudius on February 14, 269, for helping Christians under persecution (including performing marriages). I think it’s especially fitting to remember Saint Valentine on this Ash Wednesday for a couple of reasons:
1) My own denomination, the United Methodist Church, is currently struggling with how it will organize itself, since many Methodists disagree over the ordination and marriage of LGBTQ persons.
2) The movement toward Good Friday during Lent is usually portrayed as an individual’s “dark night of the soul,” a journey of penitence and fasting, very much at odds with images of hedonistic romantic love and boxes of chocolates in popular culture. But the juxtaposition and reconciliation of the two is appropriate for Christians, I think. First, because our journey of penitence and fasting is never actually alone. The sin we repent of is not just individual but corporate, so we have partners on our journey. Second, because fasting is a means to an end. Jesus said of his disciples, “They cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they?” (Mark 2:19). Jesus compared the kingdom to a wedding banquet where all are invited, but he indicated there are different times for different behaviors.
Of course, romantic love is idolized in our culture, and many people, both religious and non-religious, have had their fill of it. The idea that we each have a “soul mate” in another human being who “completes us” is pernicious and destructive.
But romantic love, for many of us, is the first inkling that we have of the Divine. Whether it’s driven by physiology or spirituality, the feeling of losing-youself-while-finding-yourself is mystical. One of my biggest complaints about the hetero-patriarchy is that it has stifled heterosexual men’s religious imagination about God, since it refuses to ever refer to God in feminine terms. The idea that God woos us like a lover, that God desires intimacy with us, and actually loves human bodies enough to hold us accountable for the way they are treated is a corrective that the church desperately needs.
Rome was right to be afraid of Valentine, as it was right to be afraid of Jesus. Love does, in fact, threaten the Empire.
Twice a week (usually Tuesday and Thursday) I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here: Text Of The Day
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