Valentine’s Day has never been an important holiday for me. My birthday is February 16th, so growing up, that’s the day of the week my family celebrated. Valentine’s Day was observed through classroom parties at school, but not really at home. In 2009, our son was born on my birthday, offering another reason to keep Valentine’s Day in the background.
Last year, as we inched toward a full year spent in the pandemic, I sought joy wherever it could be found. Around 9:00 pm on February 13th after everyone in my house was asleep, I found myself rummaging through our craft supplies for red, pink, and purple paper. I quickly cut out dozens of hearts and strung along fishing line. I hung them in the windows of our kitchen and taped them on our cabinets. Seeing I had many, many leftover hearts, I then made signs for our children’s bedroom doors and my husband, too, noting all the unique traits that I love so much about them.
It only took 40 years, but I finally realized that Valentine’s Day offers the opportunity to intentionally reflect on my love for the people nearest and dearest to me.
Today I’m not spending time learning about the numerous Saint Valentines in history who may or may not be commemorated on February 14th. As it turns out, the name Valentine comes from the Latin word valentinus which means worthy, strong or powerful, so many heroes of faith chose it as their Christian name. It’s thought that Geoffrey Chaucer (not Hallmark) invented the holiday as we know it today, thanks to a reference of February 14th as a day of mating and love in his lengthy poem “Parliament of Foules.” I’m not spending the day with Chaucer either.
Instead, I am diving into the Song of Songs.
We hear from this book of poetry once in our three year lectionary cycle, and it’s well worth our time to sit down and read all eight chapters. The poetry is full of the most descriptive and sometimes peculiar images for love (thy belly is like a heap of wheat or your hair is like a flock of goats or example). These individuals are far from bashful when it comes to declaring their attraction to the other. My modest modern self can neither imagine speaking these words to my husband nor hearing them addressed to me.
The Song of Songs is of the rare times in scripture when sex and marriage are portrayed as something to enjoy rather than something to endure for procreations or societal norms. Traditionally the two lovers in this book are interpreted as a heterosexual couple, though in recent decades this understanding has been challenged by many biblical scholars. Whatever the makeup of the couple, the book walks us through their courtship, their falling in love, and their partnership.
The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
looking through the lattice.
—Song of Songs 2:8-9
The anonymous couple fully celebrates one another’s bodies from their voices to their tastes to their smells. Their partnership isn’t just physical though. They also communicate their dreams through respectful conversation. They are one another’s companions in life.
It’s become quite common in our house to say “I love you” to a family member before walking out of a room. It means we speak and hear these words dozens of times every single day. It’s instinctual at this point and requires no thought to say. I find the opposite true for so much of the poetry found in Song of Songs. As ridiculous as it may sound to us today, I bet a lot of thought was put into verse 6:6, “Your teeth are like a flock of ewes, that have come up from the washing.”
Saying and hearing the words “I love you” is such a gift, but how much more meaningful would it be to hear why we are loved. What is it about me that you respect, find attractive, or celebrate? Perhaps tonight my husband and I will take turns reading this book of the Bible. We’ll blush like twelve year olds and giggle through parts of it no doubt. However, I hope the passionate language will also remind us how important it is to share our feelings with those whom we love.
[Image Credit: Song of Songs by Egon Tschirch, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]