In the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day my email box fills up with shopping reminders from florists, and other merchants I have dealt with online. Apparently, nothing would express my love better at this time of year than a dozen red roses, or a new computer, or even a gift certificate for an oil change. Just as with Christmas, enterprising advertisers have mostly taken over the holiday, and turned it to their advantage.
The Christian calendar of saints actually has more than one character named Valentine. There are a variety of stories and traditions, but my favourite legend says Valentine was a Christian priest who lived and died over 1700 years ago, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Claudius II.
The Roman Army was having trouble recruiting enough soldiers to fight its wars. It seemed that many young men (no women in the army in those days) would rather stay home and start a family than go off to some distant land to defend the Empire. Claudius’ bizarre solution was to pass a law forbidding marriage.
In this version of the story, Valentine defied the will of the Emperor, and the power of the entire Roman state, by secretly marrying couples, so that the man would then be exempt from military service. There is something totally appropriate, and also totally ironic, about joining people together in marriage so that they would not have to fight.
Increasingly I think about God as not just the source of Love, but think that God actually is that love, that animates us, energizes us, and frees us from the traps of our despair, small-mindedness, greed, and need to control others.
A couple of weeks ago I was locked into an argumentative power struggle with one of my kids, and became so frustrated with the situation that I just needed some time to breathe, and to be quiet. I gave myself a time-out, and sat alone for a few minutes. I realized quickly that I had no idea how to resolve the argument, which really means I knew there was no chance of making this awful, awful child come around to the right way of thinking, and living, by agreeing with me. I felt stuck. And angry. And absolutely right in my convictions, whatever they were.
It took a while, but I did calm, and cool, and then warm up again. My heart opened, and I remembered that I actually like this child- both of them actually. Whatever the issue was between us was small compared to the love I have for them.
Love really does have the power to overcome divisions between people. Love may not solve the disputes, but because love is for every person, and does not want to leave anybody out, Love warms us to the desire to not let differences keep us apart. Love is bigger than our differences. Love is bigger than us, and our small ideas and opinions, no matter how right we are!
Maybe we can use Valentine’s Day to celebrate the power of God, and God’s love, to make the things that we allow to separate us seem smaller than the things that we share in common.
As the Winter Games get rolling in Sochi, I have to confess that I was having a hard time getting into the Olympic spirit. The stories coming out of Russia these days about the active persecution of gay and lesbian people are awful. The apparent unwillingness of the International Olympic Committee to recognize this as a human rights concern, and not merely internal politics, has been disappointing.
A week or so ago I saw an inspiring video, that does not take on the Olympic Movement, or the Russian Government, or even the human tendency we seem to have, to always find someone to put down, or blame for the problems in the world. It shows a group of people who were gathered in Stockholm, who decided to reach out with love.