I heart Valentine’s Day.
I mean, what's not to dig about a day in which it is socially acceptable to just freakin’ love on everybody?
Because that is really what Valentine’s Day is about, even in the secular sense.
In kindergarten we swapped hearts with EVERYONE, don’t you remember?
There’s a reason for that. Valentine’s Day is for lovers—that is, for people who love, period.
This is especially true for Christians.
Meet brother Valentine, beloveds…
History remembers very little about the man Valentine. As with all good stories, though, that doesn’t mean much.
Legend has a truth all its own.
When it comes to saints, I like to think about how that particular person—in their particular situation in time and social circumstance—pointed to Jesus.
How did s/he reveal the Kingdom of God amidst creation?
- Lucy defiantly claimed ownership of herself and her right to fulfill her vocation in the face of evil, patriarchal violence.
- Brigid refuted scarcity and strangeness in exchange for the Creator’s abundance and welcome; she threw her cloak of healing and shelter around any who had need.
What does brother Valentine, legend or no, have to teach us about walking in the ways of Christ?
Valentine was a Christian minister in Rome during the 3rd century. Claudius II was emperor and hell was breaking out all over. The Roman military machine roved and conquered, carrying out Claudius’s “many unpopular and bloody campaigns,” but not to his satisfaction.
The story goes that soldiers, weary of senseless campaigns, were getting to be quite lackluster. Free men were even choosing not to enlist in the military at all; they did not want to leave their families for the Empire’s wars. Thus, in desperation, Claudius made it illegal to wed. He outlawed all engagements and marriages. He figured his soldiers would be more apt to do his bidding if they were not attached to loved ones at home.
Love has always been a problem for violence and the business of making war. Ambition’s domination and destruction have always tried to thwart the wild creativity and self-giving nature of agape.
And that Love is what Christians stand for.
Emperor Claudius II did not like Christians much.
Valentine’s response was simple:
He broke the law.
Valentine performed wedding services for people not allowed to get married. He helped young lovers fulfill a part of their God-breathed vocations—vocations that threatened the violating power of the Empire.
Valentine smuggled and sheltered people deemed “illegal.” Christians were persecuted on and off during Claudius’s regime. Those that did get married were especially hunted. Valentine helped keep these people safe as long as he could. Even when he was taken to prison himself, he helped smuggle letters between prisoners and their families.
Valentine never stopped talking truth. He never shut up about Jesus, it seems. Folklore says prison guards and their families came to know Christ because of Valentine’s incessant desire to connect people to the One who could set them free.
Valentine loved his enemies. Because he did break the law, our brother was sentenced to stoning, clubbing, and then beheading. After he was beaten almost to death, Valentine was taken to Claudius. Instead of begging for his life, Valentine told Claudius of Love—of the God-Man whose love Empire could never overcome. Even moments before his death, Valentine loved his enemies enough to offer words of Life.
Valentine of Rome was relentless in his pursuit of love. Love was his resistance to the powers of violence in his time,
And, thus, the Kingdom wound its green growth through the soils of time that much more...
Valentine’s Day has been all but conquered by consumeristic competition and selfish practices.
It is a day many people scorn because they either feel let down or left out entirely. But we know that this is not what Valentine was about, and it is surely not what God is about.
Perhaps you sense an invitation to join Love’s resistance, especially on a day seemingly overtaken by imperial schemes.
Let's go to work...
8 Ways to Join Valentine's Resistance:
Here's what came to mind in response to Valentine's story. I don't envision squishing each of these ideas into February 14th; the transformative invitation of a feast day needn't be hemmed into a mere 24-hours.
Instead, consider how Valentine's life and death for the sake of God's healing, liberating, and salvific Love might inspire and challenge your own walk in grace, whatever your season may look like.
1. Identify ways that Valentine’s Day has made you uncomfortable in the past--and talk back to it.
Give yourself the gift of (1) naming those things that have bothered you and then (2) speaking truth back to them.
For example, I am uncomfortable with the level of pressure American culture puts on “valentine” gifts/cards/sexiness. I speak truth back that pressure by saying, “My husband and I revel in each other’s love quite well without your “help”--we’ll do what we want, ermkaaaay?"
Cultural b.s. will not dictate our lives. Woot!
2. Celebrate the sacramental nature of partnership.
Ways to celebrate marriage:
- Renew your wedding vows. Read through the promises you entered together with God.
- Pray with and for your spouse. Cheer for one another!
- Support the vocation of marriage rather than the wedding industry.
- "[Pope Francis] explained that Christian marriage and family life is a real vocation, just like priesthood and religious life are. Two Christians who marry each other have recognized in their love story the Lord's call, the vocation to form one flesh, one life from the two, male and female. It takes courage to start a family...Christian Marriage is a Sacrament, a participation in the very life of God through which and for which we are given grace, the very Life of God." -- Deacon Keith Fournier
- Celtic Daily Prayer has a beautiful blessing for the bedroom of a married couple:
"Peace be here in the Name of the King of life;
the peace of Christ above all peace,
the Lord's blessing over you.
Peace be between person and person;
between husband and wife.
The peace of Christ above all peace,
peace between lovers in love of the King of Life."
3. Leave off consumerism—share an experience instead!
- Revel in your beloved. ;)
- Cook an awesome dinner together.
- Visit that thing you've been meaning to check out.
- Take an extra long walk together.
4. Love creation.
5. Leverage your voice and social position to protect & empower others.
Protect people who are labeled “illegal” in your community and who are otherwise disadvantaged. If you do not know who these people are in your neighborhood, reach out to your pastor, a public school counselor, or a local NAACP chapter.
6. Work for peace.
- Pray for an end to war—that the blasted war machine would slap wear out.
- Support military spouses who are alone this week.
- Meditate on Matthew 5:9.
- Write a letter to the US president, your congressperson, and local mayor.
- Don't be afraid, beloved.
7. Say it with snail mail.
Handwritten letters or simple "thinking of yous," I think, will eventually revolutionize the world. :) They will AT LEAST help us get to where we're going. Valentine reminds me how powerful a missive can be.
On the day of his beheading, our brother left a note of encouragement for the jailer's daughter--a friend he had helped heal during his time in prison. He signed it, "your Valentine."
Write somebody this week. Tell them something important. Tell them they're important.
8. Approach Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to give rather than to receive.
- Host a Galentine’s Tea/Brunch/Speakeasy: When I was in high school, my mama helped me host a ladies-only tea party for girls from school. It was always in the afternoon, early enough for both the single and the coupled to have fun together. I remember that everyone loved the cucumber sandwiches, hated the hot tea, and the go excited for the $10 gifts we exchanged. <3
- Unknowingly, this was the beginning of the Valentine's Day transformation in my life. I was tired of feeling anxiety and pressure about February 14th, so I turned it into a day to host and love others. It was my first taste of reclaiming and redefining something good out of the hands of my culture. So thankful for the ways grace woos us to creativity even when we're pretty unaware.
- Bless coworkers with a special treat. HOLLER. Do this and there shall be showers of happiness and giggles in every corner of your world. People will feel special.
- Be a sneaky lover. I love those "Random Acts of Kindness" people do around their communities--like paying for the next person's coffee or leaving money taped to the gas pump. I think Saint Valentine would approve of such shenanigans. Find ways to remind people that they are seen and loved. The sneakiness makes it even more fun.
Here's a handy summary. Feel free to download or share!
I hope you and yours have a beautiful St. Valentine's Day, beloveds.
How are you celebrating? I'd love to hear about your traditions!
Have fun! And know that the liberating love of Christ is coming through you.
P.S. Have you ever wondered why I call you “beloved”?
I call you beloved because you are. Because you are completely and utterly wanted and loved by God. I call you beloved so you know that you’re welcome, friend: you’re welcome right here, right as you are. All of you—the parts you like and the parts you don’t. Every bit of you is awash in the long and loving gaze of God. Consider "beloved" as a valentine if you need to. A whole Love note squeezed into a single pronouncement. For you are, you know: Beloved.