If the only thing you’re celebrating on Valentines Day is romantic love you’re missing out.
There’s a segment of the population that rejects Valentines Day. It’s a Hallmark holiday, that’s true, but that doesn’t negate the historic context of holidays. The etymology of the word holiday derives from the Old English word that means holy day. In the fourth century AD there were several patron saints known as Valentine or Valentinus. Their stories vary but the common theme is rebellion against Roman oppression for the sake of marriage. The Christian church appropriated a pagan feast holiday in February known as Lupercalia, which was a festival for the Roman God of agriculture. The link of Valentine’s Day to love didn’t happen until the Middle Ages. The first commercial production of the Valentine card in America was a work of art, made of imported lace and delicate paper floral by artist Esther Howland in the 1840’s. She’s an original example of entrepreneurialism.
Let’s talk about love, ahem, baby.
The pagan Greeks and later the Christian Greeks had a nuanced view of love. There is Eros (erotic or romantic love), Philia (brotherly love), Agape (covenant love or Christian love). Eros was seen as an irrational, dangerous kind of love that could possess you and rob you of your senses. That people hope to fall ‘madly’ in love is surviving evidence of this. It’s an ironic fixation in modernity that people wish to go mad with erotic love. I believe it has to do with the undervaluing of the other robust forms of love out there. While our Western culture has become fixated on sex, sexiness and sexuality it has become ignorant of full love.
Examples of Philia love are the relationships between a parent and child, friendships, ally cities/states/tribes, military troops, teachers and students. The purpose of the Philia type of love is to cultivate virtue in one’s life as his life relates to another’s. Philia is the highest form of love that can emanate from Man. Philia is a spontaneous love while Agape is a deliberate love. Words such as philanthropy (generosity to Mankind), philanderer (a man flirtatious with his affections), philharmonic (lovely harmonies) come from the root Philo.
Examples of Agape love are the relationship between spouses and the relationship between God and Man. John 3:16 talks of Agape love. In this verse, “For God so loved the world”, the Greek word for love is agapao. Agape love is a self sacrificial love. C.S. Lewis found this type of love to be the highest form of love known to Mankind. This type of love can only emanate from God but can be used by people. Marriage is a holy covenant that manifests Agape love. This is a kind of love that loves another regardless of what they may receive. ‘Love is patient, love is kind, love does not boast, it is not arrogant or rude, it does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice in failures but rejoices in truth, love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things’. This old scripture isn’t simply a sentiment. It is Agape love.
One of the greatest valentines I’ve given in my 33 year old life wasn’t given in the spirit of romantic love it was the simple gesture of giving flowers to an important woman in my life, my mother. My mother was an excellent teacher, parent and supporter. Her life was stricken with deprivation, loneliness and disappointment but she loved me sacrificially. She did her best to raise me right. She is virtuous and fallible and brave and human. She gives me a charitable and selfless love and that means more to me than the passion of romance. The gift of the flowers lit up her day, as she had never had flowers delivered to her in the 70 years of her life. In fact, it’s funny because the deliveryman stood there in her open doorway with the flowers and she insisted he must have the wrong house. When he said well aren’t you so and so she realized the flowers were just where they were supposed to be. I think the shock of it all; delivered flowers, that someone thought of her, that an ordinary day became extraordinary really touched her heart. I had no idea she would enjoy the gift, much less be happy as a clam. That was a special Valentines Day!
It’s a shame that our fixation on romantic love deprives us of the other expressions of love that are so precious. I’ll try to do my best to cherish them all.