"Blossoms in the Wilderness"
- At the Desert Retreat House -
Today is “Ash Wednesday” on the Christian calendar and it is also Valentine’s Day, which presents a bit of a dilemma for some people. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season, a lean and stark time for making self sacrifices, a time to “repent” from sin;” whereas Valentines Day is a lush time for romantic dinners and sending flowers or candy to the love of one’s life. Many people may have a hard time reconciling these two observances that are seemingly very different; but as I see it, the observance of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day is almost perfectly complementary.
Growing up, I was taught that a “sin” was “an offense against God.” In order to repent from sin, you must tell “God” you were sorry for hurting “him” so that he might love you more, or more importantly, punish you less.
This view of God as the big bully in the sky who needs to be appeased whenever he gets hurt seems quite childish and even silly to many non-religious people nowadays - it also sounds pretty ludicrous to me. I personally don’t think that “repentance” has anything to do with making “an unhappy God” happy again. In essence, “sin” is the rupturing of any relationship and we repent from sin whenever we repair or maintain relationships.
Priest and author, Barbara Brown Taylor defines everyone and everything as a “luminous web of relationship.” I find this image to be very helpful. We “are” a relationship! Everything and everyone that exists “is” a cosmic, dynamically interconnected relationship, all bound together by the radiant, diving energy we call “God.”
Indeed, whenever we rupture a relationship, when we feed our self-centered egos, when we do damage to one another or when we when we destroy our relationship with the world of nature, we commit a “sin,” and in this sense a “sin” is indeed an “offense against God.” We turn away from sin (repent from sin) by healing broken relationships and nurturing “love” in our lives.
On Valentines Day, “love” is often depicted as a warm and tender romantic feeling that two people have for one another; but genuine love always goes far deeper than nice feelings. In fact, in some sense love isn’t a feeling at all. In his classic book, The Road Less Travelled, M. Scott Peck offers this wisdom:
Love is not a feeling,
genuine love is a courageous activity
by which we extend ourselves for the nurture and welfare of another.
Real love often occurs in a context in which the feeling of love is lacking.
When we act lovingly, despite the fact that we don’t feel loving,
we are really loving.
On “Ash Wednesday” we turn away from sin by reconciling and healing broken relationships, we repent from “sin” by shattering the isolation of our bloated egos and extending our lives for the nurture and welfare of other people. We repent from sin by recognizing our intimate relationship with the world of nature. Today might be a good day for giving our our hearts and sending our valentines to those for whom we feel love and to those who we don’t even like. Valentine’s Day is a great day for all of us to “turn away from sin.”
It seems to me that Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday are wonderfully complementary. I wish they would always be celebrated on the same day.