Love from the ashes

Love from Ashes

This February Ash Wednesday and Valantines share the same date. Maybe the incongrulity is less striking than you might first think.

Despite the best efforts of many authors there is no real link between the Christian celebration of St. Valantine (Valentinus) and the archiac Roman festival of fertility, Lupercalia. We need to stay closer to home to find Valantines romantic origin. 

Chaucer is the first to mention Valantines Day as a romantic festival in ‘Parlement of Foules’ published in 1382. Before this point, Valentinus was only a celebrated saint (or several, no one is sure) for his (or her) martydom. He was either protecting Christians or secretly facilitating the marriage of Roman soldiers so they could avoid fighting. Some hagiographical sources have him (or her) healing the blind daughter of his jailer or proselytising the Emperor. We actually know very little about Valentinus if truth be told!

It is Chaucer that gives Valentinus the romantic spin. It is all about ‘birds’ for Chaucer - in this case a  poem discusing the vagaries of love in the guise of eagles choosing a mate. After each male presents his case, no decision is reached. In a male dominated society, Chaucer promotes ‘free will’ for women in matters of love;  “Finally now this is my own conclusion: That she herself shall make her own decision”, (Modern translation A. S. Kline, 2007). 

Is Chaucer a pseudo-feminist? Maybe, but the need for female equality with men has not gone away, even after six hundred years and most recently with the Harvey Weinstein allegations and #MeToo campaign. Free-will in love reaches deeply into the timeless well of our humanity and spiritual thinking throughout the ages. 

I am no great romantic, but we all have languages of love for each other. Maybe the most significant is spending time together. The same can be said of our spiritual life. Spending time with God in a meaningful way is the love language of spiritual growth. Finding that language and exploring different possibilities should be the same adventure as young lovers discovering each other for the first time or the long burning flame of love rekindled by new found appreciation of another. Love is the opposite of coercion. Intimacy with God like any relationship cannot be prescribed, it is a journey with disapointments and joyful surprises. So maybe there is something spiritual to learn from the romance of the high medieval period? Growing in love takes time and effort. 

Whether you are going out for a romantic meal this Valantines, enjoying the Pancake party at Scholes on the 13th (3.30-5pm) or joining the services of ashing at 11am in Barwick and 8pm Thorner; true love is a costly choice and takes our time but the rewards are rich. I hope you will rekindle the flame of love during Lent, for those you love, those in need and for the greatest love prize of all, Jesus.