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Be My Valentine
February 14, 1988

The newspapers sometimes do print good news. Did you read this week of the 10-year-old boy and his dog? An Indiana boy was throwing an article for the dog to retrieve. The dog ran out on the frozen lake and fell through the ice. The little boy ran to save his dog, only to fall in himself. While the boy screamed for help, and bobbed up and down in the icy, freezing water, the dog swam to the boy, buoyed him up, and gently pushed the boy to firm ice. The screams alerted a neighbor who called the volunteer fire department. They came and rescued the boy and his dog. Said one fireman, "It was unbelievable the way that dog pushed the boy and saved his life." It was love. The boy and his dog are in a love relationship. They are each other's valentines!

Yesterday's Mercury News featured the Bakers who have been married 74 years. Dorothy is 95 and Ernest is 96. They were married in 1914. They will be honored today in their church, Los Altos United Methodist. According to John Dodson, the minister, this happy couple, still in love with each other, hold hands as they sit in the pews worshipping God. Dorothy was quoted, "The last thing I hear before I go to bed at night is `I love you.' The first thing I hear in the morning is, `I love you." Earl Reese, one of our faithful members, lost his wife Gladys this past year. He remembers how a day never went by without them telling one another, "I love you."

Let's celebrate love this morning. Today is Valentine's Day, a day for lovers. Valentine's Day is named for an obscure saint from the third century who, on February 14 in the year 270, was martyred for his faith in Christ. There are some lovely legends about St. Valentine. One tells of the imprisoned young Christian before his death. During his confinement he thought of his loved ones. He missed them so. Because he wanted to assure them of his well being, he picked some violets which were growing outside his window, pierced them with the words, "Remember your Valentine," and sent them off by a dove. He also sent messages to his family which simply said, "I love you."

According to another legend, on his death on February 14, he left a farewell note for the jailer's little daughter, who had been kind to him in prison. The note to the little girl said, "From Your Valentine."

Historically, however, Valentine's Day is probably a result of the church's adoption of a Roman festival called Lupercalia. This festival was celebrated on February 15 on the Lupercal, a sacred enclosure on the Palatine Hill. Here animals were sacrificed, dogs and goats. Young men called the Luperci stripped themselves naked, and with thongs made of the skins of the animals sacrificed, rushed around the enclosure, striking out at all the girls who came within reach. It was very exciting for the young women to be touched, for the act was supposed to guarantee that someday they would have children. The "Lottery of Cupid" was also popular, in which sweethearts were chosen by lots. According to Angela Owen in yesterdays' Times-Tribune, the custom originated in England of sending notes to one's sweetheart, rather than choosing a sweetheart by lot. The Romans also believed that birds pair up on February 14.

It is significant that the church renamed the Roman festival for a priest who was martyred, a man who gave up his life out of love and loyalty for his Lord. I'm glad the church adopted the Roman festival and "baptized" romantic love as a proper Christian act. Even though the day is named for a saint, the church has done little with Valentine's Day. We seem to have surrendered Valentine's Day to florists and candy stores; as if we are embarrassed by romantic love. Our culture makes such a mess of romantic love, the church has usually avoided discussing it, as if physical love is not "spiritual", is not a gift from God. The early church was wise to include the celebration of love, romance, and courtship within its concern and care.

After all, we were created by God with the need to love and be loved. Something within each of us cries out, "Be my valentine." We each want to be special to someone else. We want a dog to love and be loved to the point of saving each other's lives. We want at least one other person in this world to think that we are very special, who looks upon us with fondness, affection, and physical attraction. Those desires are not wrong; they are created by God, and are to be celebrated.

Dorothy Parker, the short-story writer, theater critic, and writer of light and witty verse, had a small, dingy cubbyhole of an office in the Metropolitan Opera House building in New York. But few people came to see her. Few people knocked on her door, looking for her. She became depressed and lonely, until one day she asked a signwriter to paint the word "Gentlemen" on the door. Then she received visitors; surprised and confused perhaps, but they were visitors!

She is not alone in her loneliness. I suspect the unfulfilled desire for someone special in life is more prevalent than we care to admit. Perhaps the reason soap operas, romantic novels, x-rated movies, and dating bureaus are so popular is the vast number of Americans who feel unfulfilled and lonely. Perhaps some of you here this morning are longing for a valentine. Won't someone be my valentine? Won't someone think me special? Won't someone love me? You may be looking for a special friend. You may be looking for a spouse. If you are looking for a special person to be your valentine, you are not unusual. You are not alone. In fact, there are probably people right here this morning who would be glad to be your friend, even be your special friend, your valentine. I am not proposing we send a sign-up sheet around, or that you put a check mark by your name on the attendance pad, but perhaps some of you here this morning are looking for each other. If so, the best way to have a valentine is to be one; the best way to receive love is to give love.

Let's celebrate love this Valentine's morning. The world needs more lovers, more valentines. We need to see more couples holding hands, young and old. People who love and are loved, in a marriage or in a friendship, are participating in the life-giving energy of God. The Bible tells us the basic life-force is love. "God is love." Love is the willingness to lay down one's life for another, like the boy and his dog. Love is self-expression of the erotic energy within each of us. Rather than be ashamed of the erotic, or embarrassed by it, express that energy in everything you do. Be in love with your work. Express your energy in art, music.

The world needs more lovers who are in love with life, in love with creation. Our planet is starved for love. The eroded topsoil cries out for love. Dirty water and polluted air cry out for love. Earth is our mother and we treat her with hatred. Without the earth we perish as humans, yet we try to live in a tiny bubble made by technology, denying that we are part of the earth, and need the earth for our very survival. Lovers love the earth. Lovers are joyous, spontaneous, creative, happy people, able to love others and our planet. Let's celebrate love this Valentine's morning.

Let's celebrate our sexuality. Sexuality is a gift from God--a beautiful, tender, expressive, loving gift that is to be nurtured, appreciated, and enjoyed. The church over the past few centuries has narrowed its concern to the soul and in so doing, separated itself from real life. The church has given up education to the schools, healing to the physicians, emotional/spiritual problems to the psychiatrists, the universe to scientists, prayer to meditation groups, injustice to the politicians, and sex to the pornographers. No wonder churches are dying, we cut ourselves off from human living. No wonder church is boring. We rarely talk about anything important. A cartoon in the inside pages of this week's New Outlook, our church paper, pictured two fellows talking. "If we want to educate our youth properly, the church needs to take a radically new stand on the issue of sex." "And what's that?" "Admit it exists."

Yesterday I attended a fascinating workshop at the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology, and was thoroughly challenged by Matthew Fox and Brian Swimme. Because we have cut ourselves off from the cosmos, our society is spiritually and morally bankrupt society. Matthew Fox is one of my favorite authors and I was pleased to hear him. One of his concerns is a plea for us to see sexuality as a gift and power bestowed on us by the universe itself. Human sexuality is meant to be experienced as mysticism, as "entering the mysteries." Be grateful to God for the gift of sexuality. Sexuality is to be enjoyed. Sexuality is a part of the play of the universe. An Eskimo word for making love is making laughter together. Sexuality is about giving. The act of self-giving in sexual love is part of the making-new that God celebrates in the gift of sexuality. Who cannot be awed by the awesome act of co-creating a new human into the universe? The birth of a baby is an act of awe.

Matthew Fox rejoices in the inclusion of "The Song of Songs" in the Bible, but laments the reality that it is rarely read in the context of worship. How sad! What a sign of our time that we consider the love poems of "The Song of Songs" inappropriate for public worship. No wonder the church is often considered irrelevant. Let me read you a poem from "The Song of Songs" from the Bible. Let's celebrate love today on Valentine's Day, and hear these poems from God's word.

The woman speaks: I hear my lover's voice. He comes running over the mountains, racing across the hills to me.My lover is like a gazelle, like a young stag. There he stands beside the wall. He looks in through the window and glances through the lattice. My lover speaks to me.

The man speaks: Come then, my love; my darling, come with me. The winter is over; the rains have stopped; in the countryside the flowers are in bloom. This is the time for singing; the song of doves is heard in the fields.Figs are beginning to ripen; the air is fragrant with blossoming vines.Come then, my love; my darling, come with me.You are like a dove that hides in the crevice of a rock. Let me see your lovely face and hear your enchanting voice.

Let's celebrate love this morning. Whether you're single, widowed, divorced, a child, a youth, or married, be a friend. Reach out to people. Listen. As you listen to your body when it tries to warn you, listen to the earth before it evicts us; listen to people and respond to their needs. Share friendship. Be a valentine. If you are married, rekindle the spark that was ignited when you courted. Put some romance back in your marriage, play together, go look for shells on the beach, have fun at Great America, laugh together, share and remember. Water the flower of love so it blooms brightly for all the world to see. Give thanks to God, and in the spirit of God who so loves you, be a valentine.

© 1988 Douglas I. Norris