CommunityNewsPeopleRon Baker

When Heart Meets Ashes

Recently a strange thing happened. Two varied “celebrations” met on the same day, February 14th. The last time these events happened on the same day was in 2018 and won’t happen again until 2029.
I speak of Valentine’s day and Ash Wednesday. The larger society knows of Valentine’s day traditions – most related to romantic love, feel good coupling and lover’s commitments to each other. Ash Wednesday is not so much known outside of a section of the Christian Community. Ash Wednesday begins the Lenten season in the Christian church calendar.

In case you are interested, Lent is the season where Christians take on the journey of Jesus where he fasts in the wilderness for forty days. While in this wilderness space Jesus is tempted by Satan and has his call towards service clarified.

Meanwhile, back to Valentine’s day. Once again, this comes from a Christian context. A man by the name of Valentine lived in the third century, was persecuted and imprisoned for his Christian faith and beliefs, and while in prison, the story goes, healed the blind daughter of his jailer. Over the centuries Valentine’s adventures seem to have been embellished – performing weddings for Roman soldiers who were not permitted to marry by the Roman emperor. The heart triumphs in later tales of Valentine where his love for the jailer’s daughter is implied in a letter he writes to her.

Interestingly, Jesus gets into both of these stories. Valentine is imprisoned because he is a follower of Jesus. Jesus is the main character in the Lenten season. We can’t walk away from either of these celebrations without talking about Jesus.

Or can we? Certainly over my lifetime I’ve noted an ability to devoid Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day of Jesus content.

Ash Wednesday is considered to be a time to give something up. To fast. In my high school years some students thought they would give up homework – using Lent as an excuse for being lazy. Nothing to do with the fast of Jesus – where the end result was greater work and ministry and the battle to get there was neither easy or lazy.

Valentine’s day? I think our society has very little attachment to Jesus on this holiday. With the sorry statistics on divorce and interrupted/disruptive relationships, I wonder if the romance of Valentine’s Day is on the way out. As perhaps it should be – for the original intent seems more to do with selfless service in the face of death than selfishness in the face of relationships.

I come back to Jesus in the midst of these two juxtaposed celebrations. Jesus rightly proclaims that the greatest commandment we have is to love – God first, others next – including our enemies. At the same time, Jesus shows in his life that love arrives out of self-sacrifice – whether in fasting, fighting temptation or fusing our lives not to ourselves but rather to God.

Out of the ashes of our own lives arises the active love of God through Jesus. Heart and ash!

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