Ever wonder how far back we have mustered our will to love on the 14th of February? It is further than you might think. Try way beyond the life of Jesus and perhaps into the forgotten eras of antiquity. Like so many of our most cherished festivals, three or four traditions merged into one death star of a holiday.
Valentinus was a popular name in the Roman world. We honor no less than three martyrs named Valentinus on February 14. Mix that with a possible Greco-Roman festival for eros, a Medieval British festival for bird mating and with the overtaxed sensuality of a consumerist post-modern world. And, Voila! You get the second largest hallmark event inching a close second to Christmas. These things are never just a boardroom decision.
But what is the ancient wisdom hidden within the gluttony of Valentines? And how does it interface with our growing will to love? For starters each of the three martyrs were, well…martyrs. They exemplified a hallmark universal law. Suffering and self-abandon will always be where true love grows. One tradition even suggests that a forbidden friendship grew between a jailer’s daughter and the iron clad saint, thus the passing of notes: “Your Valentine!”. Love and care for those in chains often coexist. How can you emulate this in a world where there are more slaves than there were in colonial Europe and the Americas. And we can not forget the turtledoves and the erotic lovers. Eros in nature must be celebrated along with the deeper forms of human expression and passion.
So, what does this mean for you this Valentine’s day? Well, go for the chocolate. Eat a few candy-hearts. Buy some roses (don’t buy a Vermont Bear!), write a limerick, and sup by candlelight. This is all well and good. But find a way to link into the deeper contours of love. Visit those in prison. At least write a card. A few of my friends will share roses with our local widows and stay with them for a while. What about your love life? Is it full of frustration? Wish you were caught in the embrace of some other valentine than stuck in your embattled relationship? Realize that the forces of frustration give you an opportunity to show true love to a perhaps unlovable mate this Valentines Day.