a reflection on the Beloved for the Feast of Saint Valentine
Today, as I’m sure you know, is not only the last Sunday of Epiphany but also the feast day of Saint Valentine. All season long, we’ve been visiting with saints of all kinds: guides and mentors whose lives illuminate for us the ways of God. And I think that Saint Valentine’s Day offers us a beautiful opportunity to take a closer look at the many diverse ways in which we humans embody and respond to God’s unconditional love.
Of course, the exact identity of the man known as Saint Valentine is a bit unclear, as are the details of many ancient stories. But as far as we can tell, “Valentine” is the name of a third-century priest or bishop who was imprisoned by the Roman authorities for proclaiming and acting upon his Christian faith. This was not unusual at the time, of course. But legend has it that Valentine incurred the wrath of the Emperor Claudius by trying to convert the Emperor himself to Christianity, and also perhaps for helping young Christians to get married. It is thought that marriage itself may have been an act of resistance against the Emperor, who believed that unmarried men made better soldiers in the Imperial army. In any case, Valentine was killed on February 14th, in the year 269. And right up to the moment of his death, he was steadfastly professing his unquenchable love for God. Whatever else we can say about the life of this man named Valentine, he comes to us as an example of what it means for a human to spend one’s life trying to return God’s unquenchable love for us.
Of course, one could do worse than to emulate Saint Valentine in his determination to return God’s love. A love that, throughout human history, God has poured into God’s beloved people; a love that, more often than not, has gone unrequited. Here are the words of God as heard through the prophet Hosea:
It was I who taught Ephraim — God’s people — to walk, says God,
taking them by the arms; but they did not realize
it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts
a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.
Friends, this is the lament of One who is broken hearted. The Divine Presence who has poured God’s self into God’s beloved humans, lifting them tenderly to God’s own cheek as one lifts an infant. Imagine! And still, the people turn away.
Who knows why? Maybe they were just busy! Busy making a living. Busy tending to children and aging parents. Busy worrying about where the next paycheck is coming from. Busy with all the things that busy our own human minds even as God offers to hold, and love, and heal us. From the beginning of time, so our ancient stories tell us, God’s love has gone unrequited by humans who refuse to make time, to make room in our busy lives, for the One who simply longs to be with us. The God who always longs to be in intimate, transformative relationship with us.
And so we come to the season of Lent. A season in which we are asked to follow Jesus into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. Why? So we might do as Jesus does: make time, and room, and silence to simply be with God. That’s the call. Jesus, who has just been named God’s beloved in a public act of baptism. Jesus, whose people are starving and suffering under the thumb of Rome. Jesus, who has thousands of people to teach and heal — surely, Jesus was as needed and as busy as any of us. And yet he leaves the crowds on the riverbank and walks off into the wilderness for 40 days to answer the call of the God who loves him. The God who calls Jesus, and us, “beloved.”
And I wonder if we will do the same. Will we make time this season to get into an intimate daily encounter with God?
I believe this is our call—and I also believe that this is the very foundation of our faith: To be engaged in spiritual practices that bring us into regular, deep contact with the Divine Presence.
So here’s a question for you: do you have this kind of spiritual practice? Do you have a practice that is bringing you into this kind of intimate, transformative contact with the Divine Presence?
Friends, a spiritual practice that is not changing us, says the season of Lent — a spiritual practice that is not challenging and altering who we are — is not a blessing to us, and will not allow us to become—as Jesus becomes—a blessing to the world. I wonder what practice God might be calling you to take up this season. It might be centering prayer, or meditation, or writing to God and letting God write back, or maybe a practice of Sabbath—setting aside a whole day just to be with God—because this is what it takes to be in any kind of intimate relationship: we have to set aside time to be together. There are infinite spiritual practices you can try, and we will practice some of them together in the season ahead. But the point of all spiritual practice is to get into deep relationship with the God who longs for us. The God who wants to fundamentally claim and call and transform us, just as Jesus is claimed and called and transformed out there in the silent wilderness.
One of my favorite writers on this subject of God’s unquenchable love for us is a spiritual teacher named Loretta Ross. On this Valentine’s day, I invite you to hear her words as she describes God’s unquenchable love. She writes:
God misses you. God longs for you, pines for you, walks the floor at night for you. God throws Godself down on the ground weeping for you. God slumps on the couch, drowning God’s sorrow, eating three cartons of Haagen-Dazs rocky road ice cream for you. God misses you.
A whole lot.
God misses you. God longs for you. That’s the message. Not just on Saint Valentine’s Day. Not just during the season of Lent. It’s the story of our lives, friends. In dreams at night, in whispers during the day, God is LONGING FOR US; calling for us.
May we have the courage to answer the call; that we may become a blessing to this very world that God so loves. Amen.