The realization that Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day this year has me revisiting thoughts on love. I am struck by how pedestrian our understanding of the concept of love is. Our English language is so imprecise; we use the same word to refer to the pleasurable/enjoyable to the sentimental/romantic to the awesome divine. I say that I love chocolate, I love my children and that God loves me.
In the church we have long resorted to the Greek language to try to clarify things. C.S. Lewis wrote a wonderful book called The Four Loves where he explores the different types of love expressed in that language. So we have storge for affectionate love, philia for brotherly love or the love of friends, eros for romantic love and agape for unconditional or Godly love. Of course Lewis also explores how these types of loves are expressed in wholesome and unwholesome ways and spends time differentiating between love based on need, love offered as gift and love resulting from appreciation.
Understanding love matters because it is so central to our understanding of both God and what it means to be a Christian. St. John says in his first letter that, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)
We must be mindful that our ability to love is a reflection of God’s love; part of the way that we are created in God’s image. We cannot love with the perfection of agape, but we are called to strive toward that goal. When we love one another we are always seeking to let that love show glimmers of the higher, truer love that is known in God.
The ash crosses we will be marked with to begin our Lenten journeys are God’s Valentine to us – reminding us that God loved us from before the beginning and will love us through death and back to new life Christ. Our Valentine to God is showing others that they are beloved by God, too.
The Rev. Stacey Fussell is Rector of Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Bradford.