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Sunday, February 14, 2010

of Shakespeare, love, and trees ...

“The course of true love never did run smooth.”
Shakespeare certainly hit the nail on the head with that one. Love may be a wonderful feeling, a sacrificial act, a soul-deep decision, or all of the above, but it could never, ever be described as ‘smooth.’ Today is the feast day of Saint Valentine, the martyr. According to legend, this priest defied the edict of Claudius II who had outlawed engagements and courting to keep soldiers from leaving the war. Saint Valentine transported love notes and gifts between lovers and married couples in secret. It is said that after he tried to convert Claudius and was condemned to death, he wrote a farewell note, signing it “from your Valentine.”  Legend or not, the story of St Valentine resonates with truth: love, sacred, romantic, or platonic is firmly planted in some serious soil. Dying brings out the best demonstration of love we’ll ever know.
First Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter in the scriptures gives another description of love that is also not for the faint of heart. All I can say after reading it, “’the course of true love never did run smooth.’” It’s much easier to send a Valentine; that is, it WAS much easier to send a Valentine. Now that I know Saint Valentine’s story, each Valentine I send is somehow tinged with the sacred sacrifice of his martyrdom … not, I’m sure, what Hallmark had in mind!
Today, in church, the homily was a collage of New Years (Gung Hay Fat Choy!), the day’s readings, and, of course, Valentine’s Day. A homage to love, beginnings, and to the prophet Jeremiah: 
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: it fears not the heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; in the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit.”
The image of that tree, green, straight, feeling-no-fear …  this is, I think, a valuable metaphor of love tough and strong and oh-so-dependent on the water of life at its roots. Chesterton, in Orthodoxy, talks about the shattering of virtues as well as of vices that occurred at the fall of humankind. Love is to the left of us, to the right of us, all around us. Red hearts, cinnamon candies, chocolates and roses … cell phones ringing, texts flying, messages bouncing back and forth across the internet, across the globe … all in the name of love, all with a tiny disconnected piece of that shattered virtue, nonetheless gleaming.
Love that is connected to the water of life, like Jeremiah’s tree planted by the stream, is love that can live in the reflection of first Corinthian’s. This love can smile gently at Cupid’s arrows, for it sees a tiny fragment of itself there; it can nod knowingly to the cheering patriots lining the Olympics venues, for it sees a part of itself reflected there, too. The kids sharing cookie hearts, the teen crushes giggling over Facebook messages, the single man and woman gamely filling in their e-Harmony profiles with hope in their hearts … all grasp fragments of the virtue of all virtues: love.
In our time, the ultimate and most necessary love, it is said, is self-love. Psychosocial and wellness experts claim that self-love is essential to healthy personal and social development. How does ‘self-love’ fit within the paradigm of first Corinthians and of Jeremiah’s tree? Today, our priest, almost in passing said about self-love:

“We must have self-love to survive and give love to others; but we must have self-love that is not selfish.”
Rhetoric? I don’t think so. This little phrase rings true! Self-love that is not selfish, I think, is love that places the self in the same order that Christ places our selves; no higher and no lower. To see ourselves as Christ sees us—in the same terrible truth-light; and, paradoxically, in the same blinding love-light. It is to be rooted like Jeremiah’s tree: beautiful, straight, quenched, no fear … to be connected to the stream is to be connected to Christ and to all others, all of which must drink at these waters of life. Love truly is all around us—we live with fragments flying through our universe, but our roots can drink deeply at the Source, of Love Integrated and complete.
There is only one thing left to say:
Happy Valentine’s Day!

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