Thoughts for the Soul

Valentines and Love

Posted on: Feb 3, 2022

An anonymous wag once observed, “I don’t understand why Cupid was chosen to represent Valentine’s Day. When I think about romance, the last thing on my mind is a short, chubby toddler coming at me with a weapon.”

Valentine’s Day is a pretty big deal in our culture. The National Retail Federation reports that Americas spent  more than $27 billion on Valentine’s Day in 2020. And according to the Federation, 27 percent of shoppers bought gifts for their pets, which resulted in a record-high $1.7 billion spend on gifts for animals.

A bunch of that money also buys roses. About 250 million roses are grown each year just for Valentine’s Day. Since Valentine’s Day is in one of the coldest months of the year in the United States, roses have to be shipped in from other countries. Most roses sold in the United State during February come from Ecuador, Kenya, or Columbia. Making sure all these flowers are delivered within 24 hours of being cut, one rose stem at a time, costs money—money that retail customers ultimately pay.

All this got started as a religious holiday. The pope established the Feast of Saint Valentine in 496 CE. He chose February 14th in honor of Saint Valentine of Rome, who died on that date in 269 CE.

Only in the 14th and 15th centuries, when notions of courtly love flourished in western Europe, did the Feast of St. Valentine became associated with the “lovebirds” of early Spring. In 18th century England, it grew into an occasion for couples to express their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering sweets, and sending greeting cards they called “valentines.”

Our modern American Valentine’s Day minimizes —perhaps even damages — what love is in its fullest meeting. One theologian observes that “the secular holiday reveals a very unsustainable notion of love as romance, infatuation, . . . impassioned sex, sentimental words, romantic gift giving, etc. For too many, it eventually creates cynicism and disillusionment because the promise [of such love] is so high but incomplete.

Ancient Greek culture identified four kinds of love, which we’ve likely all heard about:

  • eros (romantic love or courtship, passion)
  • philia (non-romantic love between equals, friendship)
  • storgé (natural affection that exists between parents and children, familial love
  • agape (spiritual or charitable love, infinite or divine love)

While the eros kind of love undergirds the business of Valentine’s day )as well as many other kinds of businesses), “love talk” in the bible is the agape kind of love. God chose the ancient Israelites to show the world what God’s love was like. The 10 Commandments sealed the relationship between Israel and Yahweh. Centuries later, Yahweh “loved” the Jewish people into their return from captivity and exile in Babylon.

In our Judeo-Christian tradition, Jesus’ Great Commandments draws on the oldest Jewish laws. While the Great Commandment appears in Matthew, and Luke, the version in Mark 12:30-31 was the earliest written down for the 1st century followers of the Jesus Way.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. [derived from Deuteronomy 6:5]. The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ [derived from Leviticus 19:18]. There is no other commandment than these.

It could be argued that all four kinds of love are taking a beating in the current political and medical culture of our country (and beyond). People of hope and faith cannot escape the consequence of these failed forms of love.

In spite of the challenges we face, however, God still calls people of faith to persevere in making God’s love real for all people.

Diana Butler Bass is one of America’s most trusted commentators on religion, spirituality and culture. She recently encouraged church leaders with these words, which I believe are apt for all of us who strive to be people of the God of love.

Keep doing what is right. You aren’t broken; you’re just worn down, sad, and tired. Even in the midst of it all, there’s still love, a healing God, good people, and a beautiful purpose for your life and theirs. You are being called to be your best self as leader, friend, and neighbor. Tell the truth with intelligence, assurance, integrity, and insistent resolve. Act with compassion and courage. That’s our path to real hope.

We can lead people along paths of hope only as we have hope. And our hope depends on being open to receiving God’s love in our own lives — an essential aspect of being our best selves. Then we muster the courage to return God’s love by loving all those who need philia or storgé or agape.

The late Archbishop Desmond Tutu reminds us that our “ordinary acts of love and hope point to the extraordinary promise that every human life is of inestimable value.” That’s an everyday kind of love — not just on February 14th.

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