By Sister Judith Minear
As a child, Valentine’s Day was my favorite holiday of the year. My classmates and I made beautiful boxes to contain our treasured cards, and it was understood from our teacher that nobody was to be left out. It was a day filled with joy and laughter, hidden surprises and tender messages. It was a day when Love could shine! And, at the end of the day, there was a classroom party with delicious cupcakes served by smiling moms. Sigh. What was not to love?
As I grew older, I began to understand the lavish commercialism and complicated expectations that surround Valentine’s Day, and my “favorite holiday” lost its sparkle. I began to appreciate how complicated Love is, and that its scope of emotions ranges from unbridled joy to despair and sorrow. I learned from poets and artists that Life (and Love) presents itself as wells of chaos, and our human mission is to work through the chaos to discover the essential nugget at its core…which, in my experience, is always Love.
I was truly saddened to lose the exhilaration of my child-heart’s view of this holiday. What I did not lose, through grace, was the idea that beautiful, hidden treasures are all around us, that Love trumps everything, and that nobody is to be left out.
This year, Valentine’s Day falls on a sacred day in the Christian calendar: Ash Wednesday. In the first reading from today’s Eucharistic liturgy, God cries out, “turn to me with your whole heart.” Whole-hearted intention is one of the great gifts of Jesus to us. We learn from Jesus to anchor our lives in God’s love, seeking always the highest moral freedom and the most perfect, inclusive Love we can achieve, each and every day. Of course, we humans fall and fail, over and over. But on our best days our higher selves continue to reach toward living a life with real purpose, just as Jesus did.
Each year, Lent is an opportunity to grow our love…to work on our relationship with the Holy One just as we must work on our relationships with every person in our lives who holds a piece of our heart. One way I do this is by asking myself questions. What habits in my life stand in the way of being the loving Presence God invites me to be in the world? What practice might I be called to that will help to open me to Love, rather than blocking me from noticing others around me who may be lacking Love?One of my favorite writers/poets, Jan Richardson, speaks of Sojourner Truth in her reflection “Upon the Ashes.” Sojourner, a fiery abolitionist, orator, and preacher knew she was called by God to speak the truth about slavery. Ms. Richardson writes, “One day, while preparing for a speech at the town-house in Angola, Indiana, she heard that someone had threatened to burn down the building if she spoke there. ‘Then I will speak upon the ashes,’ Sojourner replied.”Ashes can remind us of the horrible things we humans have done to one another: burning down the homes or cities of our “enemies,” setting crosses on fire because of skin color, and even reducing bodies to ashes in war or domestic disputes. Many of these crimes against Love claim to be committed in the name of religion, but Jesus’ life shows us another way. Always one to stand with the poor, the marginalized, with every neighbor without distinction, Jesus teaches us to “speak upon the ashes” of our neighborhoods and our world and, in moving among them, to coax Love to grow, to flourish, to thrive.
May Ash Wednesday remind us that our very bodies are made of dirt, dust and earth, and that someday, we will return to this very state. May Valentine’s Day awaken us more deeply to God, who created us and who calls us to Love in the world. Not a perfect love, because we will fall, again and again…but with God’s help, we will continue to “stand upon the ashes” and speak God’s truth: that we must love every sort of neighbor without distinction. Nobody is to be left out.
The Lover of All Hearts says to each of us today:
“Will you be my valentine?” *
How will you respond to this question?
I respond humbly, gratefully:
“Jesus, You know everything.
You know I want to be your Valentine” *
*Joyce Rupp, “Will You Be My Valentine.”
About the Author
Sister Judith Minear currently serves as part of the 3-member team for CSJ Ministries as Coordinator for Mission Integration, working with our 26 sponsored ministries. In her free time, she loves drawing zentangles, stalking birds and savoring poetry.