A Different Valentine

no val“How glad the many millions of Timothy and Williams would be, to capture me;

But you showed such persistance, you wore down my resistance .  I fell, and it-

Blah blah blah.  Valentine’s Day is almost here, and once again, I confess I greet the day with a bit of indifference.  I’m really not much of a romantic, and if my beloved were to come home on the fourteenth with a dozen red roses and a heart-shaped box of chocolates, I would pretend to be delighted, but he knows me well enough to know that I would think it a waste of money to buy those things when they are marked up for a one day, over-commercialized holiday.

In fact, on the fourteenth, I will take my beloved to the airport in the morning so that he can fly eastward to attend the memorial service of a dear friend.  And that is way better than roses and chocolate.  I love roses and chocolate, but I love presence more.  There will probably be a card or two tucked into his backpack, maybe even some Moonstruck chocolate, but we won’t spend Valentine’s Day gazing with moon-eyes at each other over a bottle of wine.

When I was single, I hated Valentine’s Day.  There was no place for it in the life of this singleton.  All the commercials, the relentless aisles in the grocery store, the radio stations: they all conspired to remind me that I was a One on a day meant for Two.  Yes, my mom and a few friends would always send me a card, and I appreciated that.  But there was no way to escape the day.  I could go out with girlfriends, or stay at home with Ben and Jerry and Colin Firth, but it was a day whose end I always greeted with relief.

I’m married now, and that takes the pressure off although, truth be told, we usually haven’t done much on February 14.  But our child still loves Valentine’s Day, and she really, really wants us to celebrate as a family.  So I trot out the heart-shaped lights, and we make a heart-shaped pink cake to be eaten after a pink meal (steak for us, pink mac ‘n’ cheese for her, red peppers, strawberries, raspberries).  We spend arduous hours making Valentines for classmates, and for grandparents, and for single friends.  But I’m still ambivalent about the day, because I know there are a lot of Ones out there, and it’s a day advertised for Twos.

I wonder if there is a way to reclaim a bit of the holiness of the day.  It was (and still is) the feast day of St. Valentine, an early martyr.  Originally it was a day to commemorate the loving, selfless act of one person; might we recreate that sense some how? I have a friend who always donates blood on Valentine’s Day.  That’s loving and selfless.   Going to the memorial service of a dear friend is a loving act, and I am so glad my husband is doing that.  Surely there are other loving, selfless acts we might engage in that would honor the saint whose legend has spawned an unfortunate industry.

I’m tempted to buy all those heart-shaped boxes at the grocery store and hand them out to the guys sitting out in front of Peet’s, holding the cardboard signs.  I’m tempted to buy up roses and hand them out to the men and women working at the gas stations and grocery stores and the restaurants and the hospitals and the shelters and all those other places that don’t just close down.  I’m tempted to walk the halls of middle schools and tell all those poor, crushed souls that it gets better and everyone is a jerk in one way or another in junior high.

But I probably won’t.  Instead, I’ll take my husband to the airport, then I’ll help out at the party at school, then my child and I will do something special – get a pizza, and rent a movie, and call daddy and tell him we miss him and we love him.  I will call a couple of my single friends in an act of reclaiming that love is for Ones and Twos and Twelves and all of us.

Haring-Life-of-Christ-Altarpiece-500

Keith Haring, Life of Christ Altarpiece

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Maundy Thursdy

Maybe not the last supper, but certainly a good one.

Maybe not the last supper, but certainly a good one.

There’s no chocolate on Maundy Thursday, but there is bread and there is red wine, and those are part of the four main food groups (along with chocolate and melted cheese.  Take that, food pyramid!)

Maybe things would have turned out better for Jesus had there been a little chocolate that night, but there wasn’t.  Evidently chocolate is a Meso-American thing that the Mayans cultivated in the 6th century, so even if Jesus had wanted chocolate that last supper, he could not have had it.  Bitter herbs and haroset it was.  But that, and the unleavened bread, and the wine, were probably better prep food for what was about to come than chocolate would have been.  Chocolate is celebratory, sumptuous, a little risque, even.  Wine and bread are different.

For several Saturdays in the past few months, I have found myself at 5pm throwing in the towel and declaring that we are going out to dinner.  Since we have made neither plans nor reservations, and since it is Saturday night, and since we have not acquired the services of a sitter, our options are limited.  But included in those options is one of our favorites, a place called Milo’s, where they love our daughter and our business.  Now the great thing about Milo’s is that almost as soon as you sit down, they bring you a basket of ciabatta and take your drink order, so for several Saturdays in the past few months, I have begun my recuperation from Saturday and my preparation for Sunday with bread and wine.

Of course, the Maundy Thursday story tells us that Jesus ended his meal with bread and wine, but I think those elements were preparational, too.  Bread to lay the foundation, fill the stomach that would not be filled again.  It’s simple, bread, not complicated, every day.  An everyday thing before all that was extraordinary in its horror happened.  And wine – wine to take the edge off, relax a little, give some perspective before all that was perspective-shattering took place.

The first time I ever served communion as an elder was on Maundy Thursday.  I was a teenager (my church believed firmly in youth elders) and was terrible concerned about 1) what to wear and 2) tripping on the stairs while carrying the wine tray.  That’s all I remember – I borrowed a skirt and shirt outfit (navy and red) from my mother and wore navy pumps, and I did not trip.  That was about it.

There have been a lot of communions since then, and a lot of Maundy Thursdays, none of which stands out particularly.  Which is not to say I have not enjoyed them, or been moved by those services, or think less of that particular observance.  They do run together a bit, snippets of chalices and liturgy and faces who have offered me the elements, or received them from me.  They mix it up in my memory, and some visceral thing  happens when I have bread and wine that reminds me of all of them.  It’s good.

Still, I wonder if things would have been better had there been chocolate – if Judas had been reminded of the sweetness of God, if things were more of a party and less of a funeral reception.  But I didn’t write the story; it’s a good thing I didn’t.  I would’ve added chocolate, skipped the death part, and been stuck with what to do about the resurrection since in my story Jesus wouldn’t have died.

More chocolate; thank you

The gifts of tulip and chocolate.

The gifts of tulip and chocolate.

It’s always a bit unsettling when things converge; it makes it all the more possible that there is a divine force guiding us – or so I choose to believe.

If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you’ll know that 1) I invited people to eat chocolate every day for Lent as a reminder of God’s sweetness to us, and 2) that an old friend of mine was killed suddenly.  To have put the invitation out on the first thing, and now to be wrestling with the second thing has made for an interesting juxtaposition for me.  How do I contemplate the sweetness of God in the midst of sorrow and grief?

Truth be told, because of the nature of this pastoring thing, I may be one half-inch further along on the whole theodicy thing (why a loving God allows suffering.) I don’t have any answers, but I am slightly less uncomfortable with the mystery of it all.  And so the story that follows is not an answer in any way, nor does ease the chafing of points 1 and 2, but it’s a story and it has helped me.

So, as I’ve written previously, my college friend Martha died last Friday.  We lived together in a suite of ten our sophomore year, and in the days that have followed since the news of her death, we ten have been trying to get in touch with each other.  On Monday I had a call from one of the other women from that suite, a friend who was an engineering major in college (I majored in art history), a friend who was a gifted athlete (it was all I could do to get the simple box step down in my forays into musical theatre.)  We lived together but lived very different lives.  We had not stayed in touch.  Until Monday.

Monday she calls me at the church; she lives in Portland, can she stop by for a visit?  It was fantastic, and again I was so thrilled to see how this friend from my early adulthood had grown into this fabulous, generous, beautiful woman who gave up engineering and runs a non-profit that gives books to children.

And here’s the thing: she brought me chocolate and tulips, because, as she said, that’s what Martha would have done.  This old friend who had become a stranger to me is a friend once more, and the angel bearing chocolate – a sweet salve for my achy heart.

May there be chocolate-bearing angels for you today.

Chocolate and Ashes

choc 1On the table at our Ash Wednesday service tonight, we will have both chocolate and ashes, which may well seem like competing images. One suggests indulgence; the other, death – not things we tend to put together. But there is a purpose in having these objects on our table and they come, in part, from the images in Isaiah 25:6-10.   That scripture combines the image of feast and death, a reminder that God promises us an incredible feast even as God destroys the shroud of death that hangs over us all. That might be a theme for this Lent: the promise of God to provide, and to heal even death itself.

Here we are, at the beginning of Lent. For as long as I can remember, I have heard that it is a good spiritual discipline to give something up for Lent. As a teenager trying to manage her weight, I usually gave up chocolate, and delved into that Cadbury Crème Egg first thing on Easter morning. As I got older, the object to be given up changed. One year I gave up television; one year I gave up swearing. (I have since gone back to both.)

And then at some point I started hearing that it is good to add something, to do something, as a spiritual discipline during Lent. So I read a daily devotion; I prayed for someone I didn’t like (and realized that I had enough people to cover the whole of Lent.)

But for me, whether giving up something or adding something, I was always thinking about myself, and not about God or Christ. I would think about how hungry I was, or how noble I was in my sacrifice. It was about me, not about God, not about Jesus (who really knew hunger and really knew sacrifice.) So this year, for a lot of different reasons, I’m going to try a different kind of Lenten discipline, represented by the chocolate.   What if this Lent,the discipline was each day to consider the sweetness of God. That could mean taking time to meditate each day on all that I’m grateful for; it might mean reading a psalm or something else from scripture that tells of God’s goodness to humanity. It could look like looking for signs of God at work in the world today, or plunging the depths of the morning paper for good news.

What if the Lenten discipline were to have one piece of chocolate – good chocolate – or one sweet thing a day. Limiting it to one piece a day can be hard. Then again, having one good piece of chocolate a day might seem too indulgent for this austere season of Lent. But what if, mid-afternoon or after dinner, I had one piece of chocolate, and really savored it, took time with it, tasted it freshly, noticed the hint of salt or chili or cinnamon that lies beneath. And what if, as I savor this chocolate, I remind myself of God’s good intention for my life and for the world? What if a piece of chocolate a day was my Lenten fast, my Lenten feast?

Because the ashes will always be there. There will always be reminders of death and decay. We are confronted with our mortality all the time, as our bodies grow weary, as we lose people, as violence pervades the world. The ashes are there, and we can’t run away from them, nor should we (if you’ll allow me a ‘should’.) We can’t deny them. But we don’t have to give them the only word, or the ultimate word.

So that’s why we have chocolate and ashes on the table tonight. To remember that even our mortality is surrounded by the love of God.