God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
I enjoy speaking about love, thinking about love, trying to hold love in my mind and heart. Although I don’t agree with the commerciality of Valentine’s Day, which is Tuesday this week, it provides us an opportunity to think about love – and I do agree with that. Anything that humankind can do to help us think about loving each other is a good thing.
Love is a powerful energy that expresses through many different avenues and wears many faces. We typically categorize them into Agape, Phileo, Storge, Eros, and others. Despite its classifications, however love is expressed it is powerful.
Agape love is the love that the Christ wants us to have for everyone, even our enemies. It is fundamental love where we do not wish harm and are concerned for life. We may not like someone, agree with them or even care for how they behave, think, or speak, but we can choose to love them in this manner.
We may not send them a Valentine’s Day card. Valentine’s Day had its roots in Agape love, although Eros loves was involved as well. One theory is that the whole tradition began around 250 AD. In Rome, there lived a priest by the name of Valentine. At that time Claudius was the emperor and was not well liked by many the people; they thought him cruel.
Claudius wanted a large army and thought that men should volunteer. But he noticed that married men would not enlist, so he outlawed marriage. The people really thought he was cruel now, especially the young unmarried people.
Valentine thought it was a ridiculous law. So secretly, he continued to perform marriages and would whisper the words of the ceremony while keeping an ear out for the soldiers’ footsteps. Valentine is a wonderful example of doing what is right and doing it with love. In this case, he was doing it FOR love and was led by Psalm 40:9-10, which says: 9 I proclaim righteousness in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, as you know, O LORD. 10 I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and salvation. I do not conceal your love and your truth from the great assembly.
Valentine knew that what he was doing could get him into legal trouble. What God calls us to do is sometimes unconventional. To stand up against prejudice, hatred, and injustice demands courage and faith. At times it is difficult to express God’s love amidst conditions where love and respect are disallowed and treating people poorly is the norm.
But this is what Valentine did – he took a stand against spiritual degradation and proclaimed God’s love. We are being called to follow that path and are being called to love each other despite the common opinions that some people are not worthy, that some people do not deserve acceptance and honor. It takes courage to stand up against those around us who do not believe that loving each other is a good idea. It takes great courage to continue doing what is right despite the social pressure we face from our friends and associates. It takes courage to follow Christ, to listen for God’s guidance, and choose to share Agape love with everyone. As children of God, everyone is worthy of God’s love, and therefore our love.
One night, during a hidden marriage ceremony Valentine heard footsteps at his door. The young couple he was marrying escaped, but he was captured and taken to jail. His punishment for subverting the Emperor’s orders would be death.
John 15:13 says: 13 Greater love has no one than this, that they lay down their life for their friends. Valentine knew the consequences for his actions, yet he was willing to face the emperor’s judgment to do what was right. He was willing to lay down his life for the people of his city.
Rarely in our lifetimes, if ever, are we faced with the choice of offering our life for someone else’s. Yet, I would suspect that many of us would be willing to sacrifice our own life for someone that we loved – a family member, or a dear friend. I also suspect that many of us would be willing to sacrifice our life for a cause that we held dear to us. Soldiers go into battle knowing that they could lose their life; they are willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause that they believe in – for the nation, for liberty, for the people back home.
But there are different ways to ‘lay down our life for another.’ While we may not have the need to lay down our life for another literally, we have opportunities daily to die to self and take up God’s cause. We have the chance to die to our egos, and the small self-centered thinking and behaviors that sometimes possess us.
We can offer to God the old, self-serving darkness that clouds our heart to expressing Christ fully and clearly. We can sacrifice our wants and desires for the needs of others. We can place other people’s feelings above ours. We can let go of the need to be right and listen to someone. We can pass on watching a television show that we want to see and watch one that a loved one wants to watch. Every time we put someone else’s needs before our own, we have stepped into the arena of ‘laying down our life’.
While in jail, Valentine tried to remain cheerful. Many people came to visit him in jail, and threw flowers and notes into his window. They wanted him to know that, like him, they also believed in love.
One of the young people who came to visit Valentine was the daughter of the prison guard. The guard would allow his daughter to visit and sit for hours with Valentine. She also believed that the priest was doing the right thing by ignoring the Emperor’s ban on marriage ceremonies and denying love’s expression.
So there comes a point where we must decide, to either give ourselves over to the fullest expression of Christ or not. We must accept that we are either a Child of God or something less. If we are truly expressing all that God intends, then we will walk in love; we will allow love to bubble forth appropriately in all situations. It may be Agape love, which is charity, good will, benevolence. Or it may express as Eros, the intimate love shared between couples. Love may come forth as Phileo, or brotherly love, the love of friends, family, and the enjoyment of an activity. Or love can express as Storge, which is the love parents have for their children, or the fondness that develops through familiarity.
One of my favorite phrases is: “God is Love, and Love is all that matters”. Love will express, if we allow it. The Love, Peace, and Joy of God will flow if we allow their natural impulses.
As the prison guard’s daughter and Valentine visited, they developed a familiarity with each other. On the day that Valentine was to die, February 14, 269 A.D, he left her a note thanking her for her loyalty and her friendship. He signed it, “From your Valentine.” This was written from a heart of Agape, Phileo or Storge love.
This note started the custom of exchanging love notes on Valentine’s Day. The day has evolved to primarily focus on Eros love, but its roots were in the love and closeness of friends.
When we think of Emperor Claudius and the arrogance it took to try to control love and stand in its way, we have to wonder at his ignorance. Yet, are we ourselves denying love’s expression in some areas of our lives? Are we also trying to control situations, or hurt others, or separate ourselves from others by disallowing love’s powerful drive to flow?
Sometimes we underestimate how Love can express to us and through us. We can make a mistake by lamenting that we don’t have a partner with which to share Eros love. Our melancholy can block our hearts to all the other ways that Love is trying to reach us and move through us.
The true power of love lies far beyond Eros love. It is found in compassion, empathy, acceptance, and appreciation. Love is found in the way that Spirit moves in and through His children, in the seasonal changes, and the beauty of nature. This is God’s valentine gift to us: all the various mediums through which love flows. Wherever there is love, there is Christ’s smile and God’s Presence.
My prayer is that reminders such as Valentine’s Day help us open to the awareness of love in our life, which is really the awareness of God in our life. I pray that we open our hearts to the many faces of love, to all the ways that Love surrounds us, moves through us, and flows back into Creation as a healing, calming, and uplifting embrace.