When it comes to match ups, this one on February 14 when Valentines meets Ash Wednesday is quite unusual! These days meet just 3 times a century so it seems. In the 20th century in 1923, 1934 and 1945. This century in 2018, this year and 2029 and then they part until sometime after 2100. So for you, which one will take the win in 2024? They seem so different, one is about love, the other about an act of remembrance to start Lent, a season of abstinence in preparation for the Christian Holy Week. But are they that different? As an aside, I’m grateful that I’ll be able to enjoy Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday with Lesley, who is the beautiful part of the photo above!
You can find many articles on the origins of Valentine's Day, honouring St. Valentine, a third century priest in Rome. There are also well documented traditions about Ash Wednesday. I note traditions, as there is no reference in Christian scripture to Ash Wednesday or Lent. But for the person who's not into Valentine's Day or whether or not you believe in the Christian faith, perhaps there are things we can all take from the meeting of these two days on Wednesday this week.
Firstly, in honour of St. Valentine, there is love and compassion. The stories of St. Valentine are linked to compassionate acts that were against the law of the day. Perhaps we can use the spirit of St. Valentine to show extra kindness, even extravagant kindness not just for those we love, but even for complete strangers. What would that look like for you? Maybe buying a coffee for the stranger behind you in line? Doubling (or tripling!) your usual tip the next time you are in a tipping situation? Stopping, if it is safe to do so, for the pedestrian even if they are not in a crosswalk? Or sending a donation to a charity that offers kindness to the homeless or hungry?
Secondly, in honour of Ash Wednesday, or more importantly the tradition of Lent which usually applies to spiritual practices. But what if you aren't partaking in spiritual practices. Consider applying the Lenten discipline to stopping one habit and starting another, at least for the 40 days? Maybe the habit to stop is checking social media first thing and instead take time for gratitude or write a kind note to someone in your life. Or perhaps the 'habit' is a craving for sweets that you set aside and substitute something healthy like a fruit or even crisp fresh veggies. Traditional practices of Lent include giving up meat for the 40 days, but what ever you decide, my encouragement is to consider giving something up, and using that to recalibrate on something healthy. I'm thinking of giving up licorice (a growing weakness since I have stopped having desert regularly) but use the time when I am craving that licorice hit to reflect on something or someone important to me (and to eat something healthy too!). Of course, in some circles, the Lenten practices are six days a week, taking Sunday off, but as Lent is about spiritual disciplines, if you can, consider going the full 40 days with what you decide. You'll be proud of your effort!
Both Valentine’s and Ash Wednesday harken to stories or histories that highlight sacrificial love. So maybe they aren’t as different as they first seemed to me. Happy Valentine's Day and blessings to you on the start of Lent (whether you practice it or not).