Happy Valentine’s Day! Happy Ash Wednesday! Not since 1945 have both occasions fallen on the same day. And not since ever have I cared much for either. Guess I’m just a little jaded.
Today, couples make very visible shows of their affection for each other. And florists and restaurants make a killing.
Today, the faithful step out of Mass with a dusty cross brushed onto their foreheads as a show of repentance on Day 1 of Lent.
Strangely enough, both Valentine’s Day and Lent are, in their own way, shows of love: love of a romantic kind, and love of a religious kind.
I can’t help but feel we’ve got it all wrong. Part of me wonders if we have any idea what love is, and whether we actually cheapen it in our feeble attempts to glorify it.
If love is just a box of chocolates, then I’m not interested. (Oh wait, it’s life that’s a box of chocolates, isn’t it? Either way, not worth the trouble).
If love is giving up meat and other random everyday things (say, coffee) for forty days after the extended weekend of debauchery that is carnaval, then I don’t care for it either.
Roses wilt. Fish go stinky, and quickly.
But … what if there is some crazy awesome kernel of truth hidden somewhere within the fragile trappings of roses and fish, chocolate and ash?
Perhaps more than love as such, Valentine’s Day and Lent are about devotion: to another person, to God. “Love and devotion” is a common phrase, as evidenced by the Real McCoy’s 90s hit of the same name:
The word devotion has Latin/French origins relating to loyalty to a vow. And there is something in that, when applied to another human being, which I’ll concede is pretty romantic. Devotion as love is much deeper than the eros that Cupid represents – a baby with wings, a love that’s immature.
When we look at all the tragic romances that juxtapose love, death and sacrifice, we see that devotion in technicolour. Even corny movies and Korean music videos (see below) capture the idea that true love is selfless. Depending on how spiritual you want to get, you could even say it’s a way to transcend the self.
Lent, too, is about devotion and sacrifice – about self-denial, specifically, as a means to focus on the Divine. While some might argue that grace is a better lens through which to view our relationship with God, it’s Christ’s unconditional sacrifice that makes grace what it is.
The mother who goes hungry so her children can eat.
The man who gives his life for his beloved. (Or in the video above, his eyes).
The father who gave his son to show his trust in God. (Oh, dear Abraham).
The father who gave his son to restore humanity to himself.
Can we do justice to any of that today?
Well, unless we’re planning on going out and martyring ourselves this evening, I simply don’t believe that devotion can be done in a day. It’s not a one-day thing – it’s an every day thing.
I’d hope that daily thoughtfulness and support are worth more than a Valentine’s gesture. I’d hope that a posture of generosity is worth more than Lent’s self-denial. I reckon these are better ways to show love.
I like to say I’m jaded. But maybe, after all, I’m a true romantic.
Here’s what I wrote last Valentine’s day. And here are some other reasons I don’t do Lent.
Header image: Bart LaRue.
2 thoughts on “Love and ashes”
I agree, Hsu-Ann. Sometimes we feel that we have to ‘really want’ to do something for God or another person or it’s not motivated by ‘love’. But that’s not biblical. Jesus said “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.” (John 14:23) Sometimes it’s not about ‘wanting’ to do the thing itself. Sometimes it’s not about a feeling, but about doing it anyway, because we are committed to Christ, his mission, people. Jesus didn’t ‘want’ to be beaten, spat on, mocked, unjustly condemned and crucified – he asked the Father if that cup could possibly be taken from him. Primarily, he wanted to obey the Father: “Not my will, but yours be done”. Sure, Hebrews says “…for the joy set before him he endured the cross…” but that wasn’t some kind of ‘happiness he felt in the moment’ – it was a joy he knew deeply and trusted the Father to fulfill in time. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Valentines Day and token gifts but they hardly scratch the surface of true love. Maybe we need to re-configure our concept of ‘passion’…
Agreed! I’ve been reflecting on that lately, the interplay between love, trust, obedience/submission and want, and you’ve put it very eloquently and scripturally. It’s a good question about passion that you put, and funnily enough at Easter we also tend to talk about the Passion of Christ as a matter of suffering – such a stark contrast with our colloquial use of passion, whether it’s passion in relationships or in calling/vocation.
Thanks for reading and commenting, Mark 🙂