Monday, 14 February 2011

Happy Valentine's Day

Shrine of St Valentine, Whitefriars Street Church, Dublin

Today the world remembers St Valentine. This is the day on which lovers have customarily exchanged cards and other tokens of affection. It is not clear why Valentine should have been chosen as the patron saint of lovers, but it has been suggested that there may be a connection with the pagan Roman Festival of Lupercalia. During this Festival, which took place in the middle of February, young men and girls chose one another as partners. Legend, no doubt embellished if not entirely fictional, has it that the Roman Valentine resisted an edict of the Emperor forbidding the marriage of young men bound for military service, for which offence he was put to death.
Valentine's Feast is also linked with the belief that birds are supposed to pair on 14 February, which legend provided the inspiration for Chaucer's 'Parliament of Fowls'. The crocus, which starts to bloom in February, is called St Valentine's Flower. The earliest Valentine letter is found in the fifteenth-century collection of Paston Letters. The general custom of sending tokens on Valentine's Day developed during the nineteenth century, and in the present century has spread to the east, where it appears to be particularly popular in Japan. The exchange of Valentine cards, flowers, sweets and other gifts has thus become a multi-million dollar international industry. It is estimated that in excess of one billion Valentine cards are sent each year in the United States of America alone.
We are called, by our Christian faith to be people who embody love. The love which we are called to bear witness to is not casual or fleeting, but deep and as a consequence, vulnerable. When we love someone, we long for some form of acknowledgement of that love. I guess, that simply put, we long for them to smile at us, for their face to radiate openness to us that invites us to surrender to love.

The people of Israel just wanted God to smile at them. ‘Let your face shine on us and we shall be saved.’ (Psalm 80.3). When we think of salvation, then it maybe in terms of being let off punishment and having sins forgiven. But for the Old Testament, it was more human. It was God looking at us with love. The oldest Biblical text is a bit of leather on which is written these words: ‘May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace.’ (Numbers 6. 24 – 26). When someone looks lovingly, then we can rest in that smile.

I love this poem by the Anglican priest and poet Janet Morley. It speaks of the surrender and need of love in an achingly beautiful way. Let us dedicate some part of this day reflecting on our need for love and how God has gone out of his way to fulfil this need. Let us be generous in thanking those whose love sustains us, and let us share a smile with those we love.

And you held me
and you held me and there were no words
and there was no time and you held me
and there was only wanting and
being held and being filled with wanting
and I was nothing but letting go
and being held
and there were no words and there
needed to be no words
and there was no terror only stillness
and I was wanting nothing and
it was fullness and it was like aching for God
and it was touch and warmth and
darkness and no time and no words and we flowed
and I flowed and I was not empty
and I was given up to the dark and
in the darkness I was not lost
and the wanting was like fullness and I could
hardly hold it and I was held and
you were dark and warm and without time and
without words and you held me

Happy Valentine's Day from the lovely friars of Aylesford

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