Collision of religion and romance

Published 6:17 pm Wednesday, February 13, 2013

This week an unusual phenomenon occurs in the world of religion and romance. Both Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day occur this week, on Wednesday and Thursday. The coincidence of these dates happens very infrequently. Although Ash Wednesday was followed by Valentine’s Day on Thursday in 1991 and 2002, the last occurrence before that was 1929, an ominous year. The next time this coincidence will happen will be 2097. Now you might wonder what possible significance this might have. I have given this a good deal of thought.

It is true that we are all anatomically akin to dust and ashes. And it is also true that a goodly number romantic relationships regularly do go up in smoke, so to speak. But somehow ashes and romance just don’t seem to go together. I wish the coincidence had to do with chocolate, but alas, a lot of people who take the ashes thing really seriously also give up chocolate for Lent. Fortunately few people give up romantic relationships, at least not specifically for Lent anyway.

Maybe the significance lies in the background of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day has its roots in the legend of St. Valentine, an early Christian martyr known for his acts of kindness and love. The romantic elements that we think of today were added in the 15th century. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a season of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. The name Ash Wednesday comes from the custom of using ashes to symbolically mark one’s forehead with a cross as a sign of human frailty. So both days were religious in origin. But that’s also a problem. Neither Valentine’s Day nor Ash Wednesday is mentioned in the Bible. And not all Christian churches observe Ash Wednesday or Lent. And not everyone observes Valentine’s Day either, even though it is almost impossible in our culture to ignore Valentine’s Day. 

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