All writing is responsive in nature, and this little piece is a sort of response to my friend Simon Jones’ recent post on his blog, Before I Forget. In this post he compellingly decries Valentines as the contrived holiday of commercial interests.
Today is Valentines Day, and I embrace it, even as I embrace my wife: body, soul and spirit. Yes, I am aware that Valentines Day has been monopolized by the greeting-card/candy-making/flower-selling industry, but I will not let that stop my celebration. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the monopolizing of Valentines Day by commercial interests continues to increase:
- This Valentines day show your Love that you really love her by buying her a Hummer
- Set yourself apart from the wooing crowd, and give her the gift that keeps giving: a $200.00 gasoline card from Shell Oil Incorporated.
- Half hearted wimps buy chocolate and flowers, but you my friend have a love that can only be expressed by buying your woman a house! And, she will never know the affordable mortgage payments that you negotiated with All Home Lending.
- This Valentines Day declare your patriotic love for God, country, and wife, by giving her U.S. Treasury Bonds (spoken by a narrator while a Toby Keith song plays in the background).
Regardless of all this -in fact, in spite of it- I embrace Valentines Day! I embrace it because romance is awesome, and I mean that literally. The root word of “awesome” is “awe”, which means a sense of reverence, dread, and wonder that is inspired by great power and beauty. I once read that the word “awe” was originally used in the context of worship, or in reference to the experience of the Divine. Romance is awesome precisely because it is divine. In contrast to the popular rendering of romance as the love between a man and a woman that is driven by desire, and is typically marked by a pounding heart, pulsing hormones, and sweaty palms -romance is a divine affair. The word “romance” has its origin in the word “eros”, from which we get our word “erotic”, which is commonly used in relation to all things sexual, but originally meant longing for the divine. Given the origin of this word, the semantic migration it took toward its current usage may seem odd, but I think this oddness is in some measure resolved by the Church’s testimony that sex is a gift of God’s awesome imagination.
In reading the Scriptures and in reflectng upon the Christian Tradition, it seems to me that sex, in all its bodily, sensual, and orgasmic pleasure, is not only a divine gift, it is also a reality that reveals God. The basic teaching of the Faith is that sex is designed to be the physical consummation of love between a man and a woman that bears the potential to create life. Of course, all relatively complex creatures bear this ability, but humans are the ones who are capable of wedding the spiritual to the physical in this act. As I see it, sex is more than just a biological imperative, it is a physical metaphor for the relationship between God and humanity. Of all the creatures in the world, we are the creatures who were meant to be penetrated by God (sexual innuendo intended). Just as the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and created the means by which the Divine Son became human, so it is that we being overshadowed by the Holy Spirit are given a way to become divine. When God’ Spirit overshadows the human soul, he enacts a mystery within that soul by which the divine life permeates its very being. To further extend the metaphor, the Spirit plants a seed, which being consummated by our faith eventually gives birth to Christic nature: a nature in which the divine and the human are one. This is the reason, I believe, that the Scriptures refer to Christ as “the firstborn among many brethren”. Through the actions of God’ Spirit, actions that are mirrored in sexual love, humanity becomes by grace what Christ is by nature. And so, it is this awesome, romantic, and erotic reality that prompts me to celebrate Valentines Day regardless of how commercial institutions have captured it for their interests.
In conclusion I give this brief reflection of Saint Valentine, who was a priest about 1,800 years ago during the reign of Emperor Claudius II. According to legend, Claudius II, also known as Claudius the Cruel, issued a ban on marriage, because of his fear that love and marital connections would negatively affect the performance of his soldiers on the battlefield. In short, it could be said that Claudius put politics before love. Valentine, however, put his life at risk by defying the Emperor’ ban and continuing to wed lovers who sought his services. In speculating upon his motives for civil disobedience, I am quite sure that Valentine was prompted to undertake such an endeavor not because he was a syrupy, Hallmark-card romantic, but rather because he saw the connection between romance and God’ love for humanity. So, I say, lets not get bogged down and cynical by all the commercialism that surrounds this holiday, instead let’s honor this great saint, and celebrate God’ grace by having sex with the one’s we love. Of course, flowers, dinner, and chocolate are good and necessary preludes.