Although I am sure it has happened before, this is the first time I am aware of Ash Wednesday falling on Valentine’s Day, as will occur later this week.
Those giving up alcohol for Lent, the 40-day period (with Sundays excluded) leading up to Easter and starting on Ash Wednesday, will have to forego that cocktail, beer or wine on their Valentine’s date. Other than that, I don’t foresee much conflict.
Valentine’s Day is about love, and Lent is about getting closer to the one who loved us and gave himself for us.
It’s a pretty good fit if you ask me.
Although I am now in a non-denominational, non-liturgical church, I grew up in the United Methodist denomination. In the church my family attended, we were middle of the road on Lent. We did not have church on Ash Wednesday that I recall, and did not have ashes placed on our foreheads.
We did, however, observe the season of Lent and were encouraged to be introspective during that time, whether that meant some type of self-deprivation (giving up something), performing acts of service or some other observance. We often had a Lenten devotional book with daily passages written by church members.
Even though I am no longer part of a church that follows the liturgical calendar, I still try to observe the Lenten season. Although I have heard scoffs about the practice of giving something up, I can’t find it in myself to be critical of a practice meant to enhance a person’s spiritual journey (and I have little patience with those who take it upon themselves to decide who is and is not sincere in same).
I wrote in a previous column about a college roommate who not only gave up a certain food during Lent, but also using foul language. He said when he was younger, he had given up hitting his brother.
I guess that might not exactly be in the spirit of Lent, but again, it’s not for me to say.
A few years ago, I decided to write short notes (not emails) to people during Lent. I selected about 25 people, some I had known a long time and some more recent acquaintances, and wrote a few lines telling them I appreciated them, along with a few words of encouragement. Before I put it in the mail, I said a short prayer for that person.
This is probably the Lenten practice I have enjoyed the most, and also the one that most benefitted me. I received some nice responses and some particularly poignant ones. While I appreciated those, that was not the greatest blessing, which came from simply writing the note and thinking about that person, and thanking God for his/her friendship or family connection.
That thing about receiving when we give is really true.
As for Valentine’s Day, well, like every other American holiday or semi-holiday, it’s become way overdone and another opportunity for retailers to cash in.
That’s the curmudgeon in me coming out, of course, but flipping to my romantic side, it’s also a special day for me.
After a two-year and at times tumultuous courtship, on Valentine’s Day 1984 I finally came to my senses and asked the love of my life to make it permanent. We were married six months later.
Although our engagement was not the YouTube event so many are today, it was pretty cool. I wrote a poem in which the first letter of each line came together to spell “PLEASE MARRY ME.”
And when she figured it out, she said yes. The rest — 33-plus years, three children, a daughter-in-law, son-in- law and two grandsons later — is history.
Unfortunately, I did not plan well, and we will be apart this Ash Wednesday and 34th engagement anniversary. I have been assured it’s no big deal and we will make up for it.
I trust, if you observe Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday or both this week, it will be special. Do something nice for somebody and see if it doesn’t come back to you. That’s what love tends to do.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.