Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Re-thinking Valentine’s Day

Today is Valentine’s Day. St. Valentine’s Day, to be more precise, although I suspect that St. Valentine might be rolling over in his grave at what his day has become.

            Well, at least one of them might be spinning. Because apparently there were three St. Valentines. Maybe more.

            The most likely one was Valentine of Rome. He was executed for performing weddings for soldiers – who were forbidden to marry. He also healed people. According to legend, he restored the sight of the daughter of the judge who sentenced him to death.

            The tradition of Valentine Cards may go back a letter that Valentine of Rome wrote to the judge’s daughter, which he signed, “Your Valentine”.

            But there was also a Valentine of Interamna, a city now known as Terni. He was martyred by the Roman Emperor Aurelian, for unspecified reasons.

            And the Catholic Encyclopedia also refers to a third St. Valentine, apparently martyred in Africa; that’s all we know about him.


Hearts and flowers

            Not much there about hearts and flowers. Or about chocolates and true love.

            In fact, love didn’t show up much, anywhere, until the late 1300s, when English poet William Chaucer claimed that birds began mating around Valentine’s Day. King Charles VI of France, in 1400, picked Valentine’s Day for a lavish party featuring amorous songs, poetry competitions, and dancing. Shakespeare referred to Valentine’s two centuries later, in Hamlet.

            And chocolates didn’t show up until Cadbury invented heart-shaped “Fancy Boxes” in 1868.

            According to the U.S. Greeting Card Association, people send about 190 million Valentine’s cards every year – over a billion, if you include all the cards made in schools.

            Clearly, there’s a lot of love going around on February 14. Some countries reverse the usual role rules, and allow women to take the initiative.


Ways of showing love

            But why do we limit love to one day a year? Why not every day?

            Granted, handing out Valentine’s cards in the workplace might seem a little Harvey Weinstein-ish. Especially if accompanied by a leer.

            It occurs to me that I have rarely felt more loving than when I’m recovering from surgery. It’s probably the morphine. I fall in love with everyone who’s looking after me.

            Don’t worry – I’m not suggesting sending little doses of morphine, or any other narcotic for that matter, to everyone on my Valentine list.

            But I am thinking that there must be better ways to show love. After all, why should a tree have to give up its life so that millions of children can glue little pink hearts onto sheets of paper?

            It’s about as meaningful as a lady giving her kerchief to a knight she barely knows, back in the days of romantic chivalry, so that he can fasten it to his lance and go riding out to get impaled by some other knight’s lance. Although I suppose, from the lady’s point of view, it saves her from being stalked by a love-lorn stranger in armour.

            As an aging suitor-of-none, it seems to me I might express love better by volunteering at a blood donor clinic. Serving a meal at the Gospel Mission. Taking a shift on a suicide hotline.

            Somebody’s life will be a little better.

            And St. Valentine might approve.


Copyright © 2017 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.

            To comment on this column, write jimt@quixotic.ca





The most interesting comments on last week’s column, about integrating our attitudes to light and dark, came from Valentina Gal. Valentina is blind. She wrote, “From pre-Christian times, stories of monsters rising from dark places have been an accepted theme in our culture.  When Christianity took hold those negative ideas were intensified by linking darkness with sin and evil.  No one stopped to think that our greatest sins and most despicable acts happen in broad daylight. 

            “People can’t understand that when one is blind, it means that one sees a void, no light means no darkness – somewhat like looking around the room with the tip of your index finger and seeing absolutely nothing.  As a blind person from birth, folks always assume that I live in the dark and, because they are afraid of functioning without light, they are afraid of me and my disability. 

            “And since the Bible links darkness with sin, many well-meaning folks link my disability with the punishment of someone’s sins – whether it be mine or those of my previous seven generations. 

            “Personally, I agree that the light metaphor is over-used.  After all, Christ had to go down to the grave before he could rise on Easter Sunday.  A bulb must be in the ground before the tulip can grow and blind folks, by learning different techniques can live a fulfilling life without seeing.  A concert pianist doesn’t need her eyes to play Claire De Lune, and learning Braille opens the same pathways to a blind person’s mind as print reading does for you.  Living with blindness is like living in the same country but speaking another language.  We do the same things as you but skew them a little differently.”

            Valentina added that she hopes never to hear “This little light of mine” again.


Ken Nicholls shared his own experience of total darkness: “Your comments on light made me reminisce over an event that took place while I was teaching in a primary school here in England. We took a party of 10- and 11-year-old children on an Outdoor Pursuits adventure in Yorkshire. As part of the event we went potholing deep underground. The expert who led us made us dress in protective clothing, and with a hardhat we also had head torches.

            “After a difficult descent, through a number of tight presses, we came into an open, vast cave. The leader sat us down on the rocks and then everyone turned out their lights. The blackness was total.

            “The most fascinating part was the reaction of the children. When lights went back on it was obvious that the boys had been more frightened than the girls. The scuffling sound we had heard was the boys moving close to the girls for comfort! Ten-year-old boys can be so brave above ground but become ‘gibbering wrecks’ if you put the light out.

            “Perhaps this is a form of parable that reminds me of the phrase about hiding under the shadow of her wings and about being in a safe rocky place.”


Isabel Gibson also reminisced “Thirty years ago, when I was still active in a United Church, I gave a sermon when the ministers had a weekend off.  I talked about a similar idea.

            “The Gospel of John talks about ‘a light shining in the darkness, and the darkness not overcoming it.’  It doesn't say there isn't any darkness, or that there's more light than darkness - just that the light shines, and the darkness hasn't overcome it. 

            “There's much in life that is dark, both the comforting kind and the unsettling kind.  Denying the latter doesn't make it go away, or make it any easier for us to connect with others who are experiencing the darkness.  But there is also light. It shouldn't be that hard to keep both these thoughts in our heads . . .”


Laurna Tallman connected two disabilities: “I have a deep appreciation for this meditation, because I associate hearing with light and sight, but deafness with darkness and the inability to communicate. However, the healing of badly damaged eyes sometimes takes place in deep darkness. The therapy Norman Doidge recounts in The Brain's Way of Healing, describes covering the eyes to create the greatest level of darkness possible and focusing and relaxing the eye into that darkness. Complete relaxation of the muscles around the eyes and of the structure of the eye itself promotes healing.

            “In our electrified world, we forget the power of one small light in the darkness, but the hymnody I was raised in uses those images often. I recall the prohibition during WW II of even a single cigarette on the deck of a navy vessel because the glowing ash could alert its location to the enemy: it could be seen for miles across water. Before electrification, the light of a single flame from candle or lamp extended the time available for learning, for socializing, and for work. The metaphorical potency of points of light are noted by Shakespeare in a passage devoted to lights in darkness, of which the best known may be, ‘How far that little candle throws his beams/So shines a good deed in a naughty world’ (Merchant of Venice).”


Bob Rollwagen made different connections: “Seeking balance in life is the excuse I hear from many [who claim to] have no time to volunteer. As I followed your thoughts, I saw myself sitting with family around a camp fire gazing up into the darkness to find the light of stars and planets. Light in darkness and there it was, your vision looking into the flames and glowing faces. It is many wonders of dancing flames and twinkling stars existing in the same dark space that makes it so magic. Both are dramatic and strong. There does not seem to be a balance, just an intense energy, an immense solar reality and the power of fire.

            “[Perhaps] balance is best created when there is energy. The best volunteers are energetic and never have an excuse.”






The lectionary calls for Psalm 25 for the first Sunday of Lent, but I prefer to use the Psalm prescribed for today, Ash Wednesday. Psalm 51 was the first psalm that I paraphrased into more modern metaphor.


1          Scrub me clean, Lord.
Rub me down gently;
By your touch, show how much you love me;
Flush away my failures;

2          Sponge away the stains of constant compromise;
Help me clean up my act.


3          You don't have to tell me--
I know too well what I have been doing.

4          I know I have let you down;
I have betrayed your trust in me.
You warned me; you have every right to be angry.
Don't blame yourself because I blew it;

5          I was born this way.
How can I help it; I'm only human.

6          So wash out my mouth, and rinse out my heart.
New life starts on the inside, with knowing myself.

7          Scrub my spirit clean, and swirl my soiled nature down the drain;
Let me step out fresh and sparkling.
Mend my fractured spirits;
Turn a blind eye to my faults
and cherish the scars where I have fallen down.

10        A fresh start begins with a pure heart, O God,
So let me share your spirit.

11        I do not want to be cut off from you;
I do not want to live without you.

12        Take me back into your good graces.
Help me, for I really want to please you.


For paraphrases of most of the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalms from Wood Lake Publishing, info@woodlake.com.






If you want to comment on something, send a message directly to me, jimt@quixotic.ca.

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            I write a second column each Sunday called Sharp Edges, which tends to be somewhat more cutting about social and justice issues. To sign up for Sharp Edges, write to me directly, jimt@quixotic.ca, or send a note to sharpedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

            I’m leaving out some of the links to other blogs and pages, to see if those links have caused the recent blockages, preventing some of your from receiving the columns at all, and preventing others from sending responses. We’ll see.






To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols.

            Ralph Milton ’s latest project is called “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at wwwDOTsinghallelujahDOTca

            Ralph’s HymnSight webpage is still up, http://wwwDOThymnsightDOTca, with a vast gallery of photos you can use to enhance the appearance of the visual images you project for liturgical use (prayers, responses, hymn verses, etc.)

            Wayne Irwin's Churchweb Canada, an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>

            I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom

            Alva Wood’s satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town -- not particularly religious, but fun; alvawoodATgmailDOTcom to get onto her mailing list.

            Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet






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