A Valentine's Ash Wednesday by Chaplain Paul Kraus

Dear Friends,

I don’t recall in the past, at least in my life time, when Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday both fell on February 14th. Next week is the case. So of course, this has gotten me to ponder the meaning of both and what perhaps they have in common. Well, I have written several articles on the meaning of both so allow me to share and intersect them:

As the song goes, “Love is in the air…” I think Love reaches new heights just in time for Valentine’s Day (actually the whole month of February). Many of us just hover a few inches above ground as we go about our day. Love lifts us above all reality. In other words, there’s not too much thinking going on these days, just day dreaming . . . I guess that’s not all that bad. 

You know love does have a way of knocking our legs out from underneath of us. It’s amazing to me that the One who invented Love in the first place was not only the first to love us but the One who keeps on loving us! Now that will keep my feet off the ground for sure! In fact, I John 10 says, “. . . not that we loved God, but that God first loved us. . .” God never gives up on us. I wonder how many times we give up on God. The same goes with our human relationships. Is our love for that special someone pure and unconditional, or are we waiting for him/her to make the first call? Paul (the apostle) after writing a lengthy list about what characterizes love says in verse 8 of I Corinthians 13 “Love never ends.” Couples during their wedding ceremony cherish these three words (at least for the first 24 hours). 

I’m glad that God’s Love never ends. Although God is infinite and we are finite we can learn to be more like God. I wonder how our relationships would improve if we would try loving others the way God loves us. “Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.” I Cor. 13:4-7 

Sometimes we push ourselves to the limit as we care for others. As we give the deepest part of our selves in helping others I hope you find ways to push the pause button every once in a while to reflect, meditate, and contemplate. 

Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. Let this day begin a new process for you to rejuvenate, refresh, restore, recreate, and replenish. You may not include Ash Wednesday among your practices and rituals, but perhaps from a different tradition or perspective you can still take a moment to reflect on your life. Are there changes that need to be made; People to forgive; Forgiveness for you; Stressors that need to be reduced? As you restore your spiritual well, clear waters will naturally flow making your human existence whole again.  
Ash Wednesday Explained

According to the Liturgical Calendar of the Christian tradition, next Wednesday, February 14th  is Ash Wednesday. Christians from around the world mark this day as the first of forty days of Lent. Ashes are distributed and placed on believers’ foreheads in a shape of a cross to signify the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice, death (passion) and resurrection for each believer. The ashes become a sign of humanity’s mortality (limitedness and finitude) and our need to be dependent on God who is limitless and infinite.  
Self-examination and repentance by prayer, fasting, and self-denial is at the heart of the meaning of this first day in the Lenten Season. Ashes are used as symbols of the Christian faith (ashes are gathered after the Palm Crosses from the previous year's Palm Sunday are burned and are then used to mark the sign of the cross on the believer’s forehead). In other words, the ashes help us literally and symbolically get in touch with a deeper understanding of our human existence. It is the Church’s way to remind believers that we are not God. We strive to be like God, but we will never be God. Our good nature which was created from the very beginning of time purposely and appropriately includes being imperfect, limited, and finite. 

Next Wednesday (Ash Wednesday) helps us to celebrate and embrace our humanity with all its imperfections; and it also reminds us that our goal is never to be God. Lastly, Christians celebrate their true dependence on our Creator knowing that when it comes down to it we are mere dust in the ground in comparison to who God is. This is why Christians receive these words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return—(Genesis 3:19) Turn away from sin and be faithful to God.”

Now to bring them together. Valentine’s day usually brings couples together to celebrate their love for each other. Roses and/or a box of chocolates is the fragrance and sweetness that symbolizes the relationship between them. Ash Wednesday is a day to begin or re-establish a life long journey of the love we have for God and humans. Ashes are symbolic of our re-dedication of our relationships through self-examination and humility. 

I believe both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday helps us to be grounded. How many times has our significant relationships gone bitter due to power struggles or the lack of forgiveness? Why has it come to this? The underside of believing we have power over our significant other is the fear of having no power. Similarly, what lies behind the lack of forgiveness is the risk that forgiveness brings with it the lack of power. If Ash Wednesday does not teach us anything else, it is does teach us the life of humility. It is how (in most religious traditions) that God was able to identify with humans in a much more meaningful way. If God (our Maker) finds humility to be the substance for a significant relationship I can only imagine that it is true for human relationships. So I encourage us to unite these symbolic days together by finding ways to reduce the powers we have over or under each other, by committing to empower each other with a love that goes deeper than roses and chocolates, but with a love that never ends! 

Chaplain Paul