Transformational Love

February 10, 2019 — Rev. Paula Norbert


In a few days, we will celebrate Valentine’s Day, which is a day when many people give cards or flowers or chocolates to a special loved one….and perhaps to family members or dear friends. I’ve always enjoyed celebrating this day, even when I haven’t been in a special relationship, because, I don’t think we can share our love enough or tell those we love how much we value them in our lives too often. And that doesn’t mean we have to spend a lot of money doing it…we can send home made cards or we can pick up the phone and wish someone a happy day. We do know it has become a big business and I am always amazed at how much a dozen roses costs for that day.

I’ve read that young adults ages 25 to 34 spend the most on Valentine’s Day gifts. Interestingly, men will outspend women—almost 2 to 1—with the biggest categories for all spending being restaurants, candy, romantic getaways and flowers. Almost half of those who send gifts or cards are single and not in a relationship and nearly 20% of people buy gifts for their pets. I had not heard that one before.

By most accepted historians, Valentine’s Day was an adaptation by the Catholic Church of the ancient pagan Roman celebration of Lupercalia, a fertility festival. The Catholic Church updated and connected it to a “Saint” Valentine sometime late in the third century A.D. Although there were several Christian martyrs named Valentine, the day may have taken its name from a priest who was martyred about 270 ce by the emperor Claudius II Gothicus. According to legend, the priest signed a letter “from your Valentine” to his jailer’s daughter, whom he had befriended and, by some accounts, healed from blindness. Another common legend states that St. Valentine defied the emperor’s orders and secretly married couples to spare the husbands from war. It is for this reason that his feast day is associated with love. It really took off commercially as a holiday in the late 1800s, promoted as a day to show your “love” to others—especially romantic love to your special someone.

There was an off Broadway show that was called, “I love you. You’re perfect. Now Change.” And sometimes, that’s at the crux of why so many relationships face conflict. We think that if someone loves us enough that they will change for us or that we can ask them to change, but change is hard.

Rev. Janet Abel says “We know love brings change, deeper, swifter change, probably more than absolutely anything else. We do amazing things for love. I mean if you’re in love, you will do just about anything. Hatred, bitterness, grudges can also change us, and we know they do. They harden us, but even in that hardness, love can seep into the cracks. It can get in there and change and transform that bitterness into something good.”

A dear friend of mine shares the story of her journey with breast cancer in her book, entitled The Light From Here. She had been diagnosed with cancer and they were approaching a special anniversary…25 years and she was really hoping he would do something special for her, something extra romantic for the anniversary. He is a wonderful guy, but more reserved, less prone to great displays of affection, so the anniversary came and he gave her a modest card and gift and it left her a bit disappointed, but she knows him well enough to know that it didn’t necessarily reflect his love for her. Still, she felt a bit sad and more than a bit disappointed. About a month later, she was to begin her radiation and when she woke up that first morning, her husband handed her a beautiful card with a lovely piece of art on the cover, a landscape by Georgia O’Keefe, with a quotation inside by her that read, “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life-and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” This reminds her of the small things he does for her, kindnesses that inspire her, especially this day. And often, during the weeks she was scheduled for radiation, she finds a beautiful card that he has selected with a little note of love to her, wishing her luck, letting her know he is with her on the journey.

We may wonder sometimes, “What’s more powerful in life – hatred or love?” I hope we’d all agree it’s love. On my most positive days, I deeply believe that love changes more hearts than hatred because love softens, love lessens judgment, love promotes unity. Sadly, hatred causes hearts to harden. Hatred is a powerful force, but we have to believe that love is far more powerful. We say, “God is love,” and we speak of that a lot here. That we’re one in God and that God is love and that God loves us absolutely, completely, just as we are. This kind of love can seep into the hardest heart and expand and grow there.

Many years ago, I recall an inspiring article in the Boston Globe that was published at this time of year. It was a piece that followed the lives of four couples who had been together for many, many years and who had all gone through a time when they considered splitting up, divorcing if they were married. Each of the couples spoke honestly about what they had been through; what had driven them apart, why it had been difficult to work things out, and yet, ultimately, why they were grateful that they had gotten the counseling, the support and had been able to stay with their commitment to one another. It was a very realistic portrayal of different lives, but of couples who all said that they had been able to find a way back to each other. And, all of those interviewed said that their love was stronger and better, for having come through those hard times. That article has helped inspire me in my own marriage and in the times when I have counseled others. And, I certainly don’t believe that everyone should stay together; sometimes the healthiest thing to do is to finally separate and find healthier, happier lives apart, but it was certainly instructive to hear of stories of those who told the truth of what they had come through.

We often hear the words, God is love, but do we really believe it? Even when we hear those words of love, do we believe and live our lives surrounded by that love? Sometimes events have to happen that help love grow. Even bad things. For these couples, it was when they arrived at a point where they knew they had to change or to go their separate ways. At other times, it can be a very painful and dramatic event that softens hearts and serves as a catalyst for change.

Some of you may recall the story from 196…when four little girls were killed in a bomb blast in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. We all know about this terrible act, an awful loss. But it did change people. It changed their hearts, which were quite hard, softened them up a bit and allowed love to seep in where there was hardness, even in the deep South.

That tragedy helped push people along the path of transformation from racism to love, to total acceptance of each other. Of course we are still on that path, and we have had a resurgence of protests for civil rights happening across our country in recent years, after the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, and so many incidents of racism and anti-semitism in recent years. It’s been hard to watch, to see the hatred and scorn in the faces of people who could look like us or people we know. We haven’t yet arrived in the promised land of Martin Luther King, Jr., but I think most of us believe we’re getting there, if too slowly.

Transformation is change, and we don’t tend to like change. But there is no more powerful force than love.
There have been beautiful passages in Scripture and in poetry about the power of love. In The Song of Solomon, 8: 6-7, we hear these lovely words…“Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If one offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned.”

Maya Angelou composed a poem that speaks of love which she called Touched by an Angel, and I will conclude with lines from that poem.

“We, unaccustomed to courage

exiles from delight

live coiled in shells of loneliness

until love leaves its high holy temple and comes into our sight

to liberate us into life.

Love arrives and in its train come ecstasies

old memories of pleasure

ancient histories of pain. Yet if we are bold,

love strikes away the chains of fear from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity

in the flush of love’s light

we dare be brave

and suddenly we see

that love costs all we are

and will ever be. Yet it is only love which sets us free.”

– Maya Angelou