Saturday, February 14, 2009

Celebration's of Love -- A Valentine's Day Reflection

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Today is February 14th, Valentine's Day, the day to remember and honor those we love. I must confess Cheryl and I aren't doing anything special today -- except mopping up from our apparently leaking water heater (but that's another story). We needn't spend lots of money on flowers and cards to declare our love.

But, the day is an interesting one, one that goes well back into history, and like other Christian holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, seems to draw together Christian and pagan concerns together. Purists, reject all such holidays, but I'm not a purist in that sense. I receive these as an inheritance that may have their own histories, but which allow me to celebrate.

As for Valentine's day, it does often carry an important qualifier -- St. Valentine's Day, and if it's a saint it must have religious dimensions. Now, as a Protestant I don't put a lot of emphasis on the saints -- except that all believers are by biblical definition saints of God -- but that's another issue for another day.

I was interested in an article that came today from the e-journal Religious Dispatches. It's written by Georgia State University Religion Professor Louis Ruprecht, and it's entitled: "V-Day: An Arrow in the Heart." It's partly a reflection on the relationship of love and violence -- love often ends in violence -- to the one who loves or is loved. The saints of old, often were declared saints because they suffered violent ends. Such is the case with most of the saints that carry a name that is a variant of Valentines.

Although we can't know for sure which of the Valentine's gave his name to this holiday, it's likely this one:

The most relevant Valentinus related to this holiday was a Roman priest (literally called a presbyter) who was allegedly martyred under the Emperor Claudius Gothicus (the conqueror of Gaul) at some time between 269 and 273 CE. The legend suggests that he was arrested for performing secret marriages for Roman Christians, and that after his arrest, the emperor took a liking to him… until the young priest used his advantage to attempt a conversion of the emperor. That’s when Valentinus was condemned, first to clubbing and then to stoning. When that failed to finish him off, he was beheaded. The priest’s body was buried at the side of the Flaminian Way on February 14th.


But of course there are other myths and celebrations, pagan ones that speak of love and lovers and this day. So, there are a variety of connections.

As the holiday stands today it's not a Christian one, or even a religious one. Nonetheless, after exploring both the religious and non-religious dimensions of the day, Ruprecht concludes:

To be sure, Saint Valentines Day is not a Christian holiday in any real sense, certainly not in a Protestant culture that has done away with saints and their feasts. But the lingering spiritual impulse of romantic love, an impulse given powerful new life by Romanticism, is visible and very close to the surface of our celebration. Self-giving love is self-giving whether it is framed as passionately romantic or self-sacrificial. There is a rich poetic tradition that speaks of the martyrdom of all romantic love. We are called to give ourselves to the lover as one gives oneself to the god. Loss of self and self-fulfillment are twinned gestures and composite experiences.

While often perceived simply as a holiday designed to serve the luxury market, and to remind those who are single of their lostness and isolation, I have never seen it so. It is a rich and sometimes lyrical reminder of the power and the danger and the rare mystery of love in all its forms.

Let us, then, celebrate love!

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