February is always an interesting month for me. Valentine’s Day usually comes first, with the focus on love and relationships. And for many Christians, Lent follows. This year there is a reverse to that as Lent began on February 10. Lent is a season of thoughtful awareness of self, sometimes including penance and preparation before the celebration of the memory of Christ’s rising at Easter. So there is a vast discrepancy between the two. Red is known as the color for the passion and love for and from others; and purple a somber reminder for preparation.
I think about our daily lives, our lives over a span of time, our development, and both passion and preparation are so often the woven threads that make up our being. Love, it even begins pre-birth, I think. A family member of mine and her husband have learned in recent months that they are going to have a baby. Talk about love and passion! They are so excited, as is the rest of the family. And that little one is already loved by his/her parents as well as by family. A marriage, when it occurs, brings love and celebration of love for a partnership. A friend of mine got married after many years last year, and the look on both of their faces was pure joy and excitement and love that afternoon! They’ve loved each other for years, but a marriage really solidified it and made a public record of it. I went to help a niece whose apartment had flooded a few weeks ago – again, such love we shared, although a very different kind, as we worked together to sort and make some order in all the movers had left after packing and moving her to a new apartment. Love extends us, it allows us to reach out and help, and it warms our heart. And, when lost, it brings a grief and pain like no other. Consider a woman who loses her husband, a daughter whose mother has died, a man whose fiancé has changed her mind. All of these are so painful and hard to face. And yet, one day a year we also surge with flowers, gifts, ribbons, candy, and red valentines trying to celebrate and mark our love for our closest others.
In Lent we have a different mix of love and pain. The love many have for their God, for the Christ who came to walk among us. And while that celebration comes in 40 days, the Lenten season is meant to help us remember just how blessed we are through the memory of Easter. And yet how painful the road was to that morning of joy. Have you ever dearly wanted to show another how much you love them; and yet they were unable to see that love, experience it, and take it in? Instead they turned away, they denied your relationship, or they chose to minimize the impact you have had on them? (Parents, surely you can identify with that!). Lent is that same experience of recalling denial, minimization, ways in which we fail or need to grow in life. One doesn’t have to be Christian to understand these experiences. Consider the Jewish period of introspection and atonement at Yom Kippur. Or the Islamic fasting that is an experience meant to show one’s vulnerability and neediness. All three also result in spiritual cleansing and joy of community (Korn, 2006). Perhaps by coming together we affirm perfection is not necessary, but growth and insight and love for each other are.
I would like to challenge each of you during this month of love and introspection to both love and grow. Perhaps the person you have the hardest time loving is yourself. If that is the case why not mark your desire to learn to love self by giving yourself a valentine on Sunday? Daily begin noting just how others are showing you they love you and respect you. Nobody shows you that? What about the friend who calls because they trust you to keep their confidence? Or the dog who comes to you and leans in when allowing you to pet them? Or the child who asks you for a hug? Or the elderly parent whose voice softens when they hear your voice on the phone? Or even the cashier who greets you in a friendly manner, recognizing you, and asks how you are doing? Each interaction shows a tiny bit of love coming through. One of my favorite poets is David Whyte. He speaks of love in the following way:
The true signature and perhaps even the miracle of human love is helplessness, and all the more miraculous because it is a helplessness which we wittingly or unwittingly choose; in our love of a child, a partner, a work, or a road we have to take against the odds.”
― David Whyte, Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words
In this David speaks of the fact we are choosing vulnerability in love – as we choose to love someone or something by committing to it, we also allow ourselves to be hurt, to be blessed. Either way, we grow.
In a time of introspection such as a time of fasting or growth or Lenten time, we agree to enter into a time of growth as well. How are you holding yourself back from growing? Is it in being vulnerable and loving? I believe much of where I falter is essentially tied back to love. If I don’t trust, if I withhold, if I don’t take the time to learn, even if I don’t take the time to play, and instead live in fear or shame, I am not loving myself. I am withholding love and thus growing. I am refusing to develop my talents or understandings and thus shutting out potential love and growth. So as I face this Lenten period, my challenge to myself is to allow myself to grow and see through writing and reading the books I can put off as they might bring up growth. And in that pain, but eventually love. You might want to consider this as well, Christian, Jew, or Muslim, and regardless of your choice of spiritual walk. These are the books I plan to use:
The Four Elements by John O’Donohue (http://www.amazon.com/Four-Elements-Reflections-John-ODonohue/dp/0307717607/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1455211647&sr=1-1&keywords=the+four+elements+john+o%27donohue )
Lent and Easter Wisdom from Henri J.M.Nouwen by Judy Bauer (http://www.amazon.com/Lent-Easter-Wisdom-Henri-Nouwen/dp/0764812866/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1455211540&sr=1-1&keywords=lent+and+easter+wisdom )
The Lotus and the Lily: Access the Wisdom of Buddha and Jesus to Nourish Your Beautiful, Abundant Life by Janet Conner. (http://www.amazon.com/The-Lotus-Lily-Beautiful-Abundant/dp/1573245860)
May you find a sense of love for self, experience love from others and allow yourself to take it in, and have moments of introspection that are meaningful to you in the next 30 days.
Happy Valentine’s Day!!