"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning."
- Lamentations 3:22-23
Like the azaleas blooming outside my beach-front villa when I arrived on Jan. 1, the heart-shaped candy boxes bursting from stores still decked in Christmas decorations seemed equally out of place - or were they?
I loved the premature azaleas, and though I groan at the commercial hype that turns one holiday season into another like a run-on sentence, the idea that we can confine the most important emotion in the world to one brief, candy-card-flower-filled day is a bit preposterous. Nor, surprising as it may seem, can we remove the primarily secular observance called "Valentine's Day" from its religious roots.
Of course there are secular legends associated with the day, like the one suggested by both Shakespeare and Chaucer that Feb. 14 was the day birds chose their mates, or the Scottish tale that birds of another feather - the human kind - used to draw lots on that day to find out which young bachelor or maid would be their "Valentine," not for the day but for the year. Valentine, however, refers to a real person, not to an arrow-pointing cherub named "Cupid."
There may have been two martyred saints named "Valentine," but the one whose story has survived was the third-century Christian doctor who spent his life healing the sick because, "That's what Jesus did." It wasn't long before the good doctor also began shielding other Christians from persecution, as practicing that faith was against Roman law. According to tradition, Valentine was beheaded on Feb. 14, after which the early Christians set aside that day each year to revere this saintly man.
Today we revere anyone from our favorite sweetheart to every kid in class, and any establishment suffering from slow Christmas sales should have no trouble balancing their books by Feb. 15.
The Bible contains so many thoughts and tales of love that it's hard to know where to start. Most important is the theme of the entire book itself: God's love for mankind. For me, the Old Testament story of Hosea and his not-so-loving wife, Gomer, contains enough love "gifts" to last long after the flowers wilt, the candy is gone and the cards are thrown away. And like all stories in the Bible, the characters and settings are preserved for a purpose. Hosea's love for his unfaithful wife illustrates God's love at the time for unfaithful Israel and, by extension, to all mankind today.
Hosea continued to love Gomer even after he learned of her infidelity, even though she did not return his love. Instead, soon after her third child was born she left her husband and began living with someone else.
But after a time, in a scene reminiscent of Jesus' parable of "The Prodigal Son," Gomer found herself penniless and alone. With no welfare net to lean on, she had no choice but to offer herself as a slave. Hosea didn't need a slave but he "bought" her anyway - not to be his slave but to be his wife again.
By intermingling the prophet Hosea's message to Israel with a husband's devotion to his wayward wife, the book's author pens the beautiful line, "I will betroth you to me forever" (Hosea 2:19). Another translation reads, "I will woo you like a virgin." In effect, Hosea promised to treat Gomer as if she had never broken her marriage vows at all.
Jesus told his followers to "love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12), while St. Paul expanded that message in a letter to the Corinthian Church. Called "The Love Chapter," these words are perhaps the most popular treatise on love ever written. Many a faltering relationship, family or otherwise, could be saved if the words of I Corinthians 13:4-8 were read often and observed:
"Love is patient and kind, never jealous - never selfish or rude. Love does not demand its own way, is not irritable or touchy. Love keeps no score of wrongs, and will hardly notice when others do it wrong - If you love someone you will be loyal to that person no matter what the cost. There is nothing love cannot face; there is no limit to its faith, its hope, or its endurance. Love never ends."
Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to seabara at aol.com.
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