One of the things I began to realize as a Quaker boy growing up in the middle of last century was that I was deprived! When your world is small and provincial, you have very little to compare. It is easy to assume people are all basically just like you are. You assume most people live just like you live and have relatively the same amount of money, etc. I figured I was normal and that was the deal life dealt to most people. I was ok.
But then I went to school. Back then, going to school was usually the window out of one’s provincialism. I suddenly confronted “difference.” Of course, I have to smile. Back then, difference consisted of farm boy having to spend time with very small town “city kids.” But they were really different. They seldom wore blue jeans. They did not have to milk cows nor drive tractors. They did not know a bull from a heifer! I was farm-smart, but they did not care. They had a city, street-kind of sophistication---or so it seemed to me. I was intrigued by them; they thought I was funny.
I learned more than a,b,c’s in school. There would be special days that were full of revelation. St. Valentine’s Day was one such occasion. Very early, perhaps second grade, we had to make Valentine’s cards for all the other kids in our grade. I had never heard of St. Valentine. Again, I felt deprived. I did not really know what a “saint” was. As a Quaker, I had never heard of saints; we did not have any saints. None of our buildings were named “St. Something.” Once more, it felt like farm-naivete vs. urban sophistication.
I began the process of learning about the sacred. Valentine---whoever he was---apparently was very special. Only slowly and in bits and pieces did I begin to learn he was so special with God that he wound up playing a key, witnessing role. The story goes that he was martyred. He was killed for the faith. I figured this meant he was chosen to be part of God’s All-American team! It did strike me odd that no Quaker had ever made that team!
The other thing I remember about that early St. Valentine’s Day experience was the chocolate. Everybody got cards and chocolate. I admit that I rather liked the experience of getting cards---so many cards---from all the others. Some of them were personalized. Some girls said I was special! Some of my little guy friends said nice things. My heart soared. And the chocolate was delicious.
And then Valentine’s Day was over---done for another year. It was back to routine. St. Valentine had come and gone. I don’t remember what happened to the cards and the chocolate disappeared quickly. All remnants of the sacred had vanished. And that’s what I thought the sacred would be: hearts, cards, chocolate and, then, nothing.
I have spent a lifetime since the second grade learning about the sacred. The sacred has become a creator God who deals mysteriously with humans and continues to make meaning out of our messes. The sacred is the story of Jesus appearing to reveal the power of God’s love. The sacred is the story of people like you and me becoming witnesses to the ongoing divine love making good things out of people’s messes.
Now that I work for the sacred, i.e. God’s ambassador, I see how easy it is for folks to dismiss the sacred and go for the secular. Let’s go back to St. Valentine. He has lost his sacred stature. Catholics and others are not so sure who he really was and what he really did. If you look at the feast days for saints, he has disappeared. As a Quaker, this does not bother me much. I did not have him anyway!
What’s left are the cards, now the e-cards, chocolate, and hearts all over the place. Oh I think it is fun; I still like cards. I am all for love---even if it is only for a day! The Church may have given up on St. Valentine, but Hallmark keeps him as their February cupid. The secular transforms a martyr into a cute little guy on a heart with a bow and arrow!
St. Valentine’s Day will come and go. What I want to work to keep is the sacred for every day of the year. I love the fact that our word, “martyr,” comes from the Greek word, which simply means, “witness.” Clearly someone who is killed for the faith has paid the ultimate witness; hence, that one is appropriately called a “martyr.” But all of us can also be “martyrs,” be witnesses to the sacred at work in and through us.
I may give a card or chocolate today. But I will martyr myself by loving. I want to witness to God’s immense love and infinite compassion. I want to join all the others in living as fully as I can from the sacred center, which is that Divine Center in me and you. In that sense I pray that this day I can be a saint---a holy witness to the Power and Presence of God.