Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Joel 2:12-13 (NRSV)
Next Wednesday, February 14, Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday will share a date on our calendars. The last such coincidence was in 2018 and before that, in 1945. The celebration of hearts and ashes on this day, of both indulgence and self-denial, may seem conflicted at first. But both celebrations involve special attention, meaningful sacrifice and a nurturing of heart-to-heart relationships—human and divine. Both are about true love.
The Rev. Julia Singleton offers suggestions to help us celebrate both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, in ways that can unite the heart and soul of these two special occasions.
By The Rev. Julia Singleton*
Have you seen the candy hearts that read “Repent,” “Ashes 2 Ashes,” or “U R Dust?” They are as seemingly odd as the pairing of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day. One is typically a day of repentance, sacrifice and remembering our mortality. The other, typically, is a day of extravagant displays of love.
But maybe they go more hand-in-hand—or heart-in-heart—than we think. Lent is a season in which we strive to walk a bit more closely with God, to revel in God’s extravagant displays of love.
Each year on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday I set up interactive prayer stations in the churches where I serve. Since Lent is a season of reflection, that is how I like to begin and end our journey as a church. This year, as I was dreaming up the stations for Ash Wednesday, I kept in mind that it would also be Valentine’s Day. So, my stations reflect this theme.
There is one in which participants are encouraged to write themselves permission slips to do what they need to do in order to deepen their relationship with God this season. I give myself permission to pause during my day to simply be. I give myself permission to accept love and forgiveness. I give myself permission to release old pains and grudges.
Another station offers a poem that reads like a love poem. It speaks of unearned grace that doesn’t make sense. And at the last station participants are asked to write a Valentine’s Day card to God, and then to write one from God to themselves.
I encourage you to do the same. When you reflect on God’s extravagant displays of love and the grace that just doesn’t make sense, how do you want to express your love to God? And what would God say specifically to you in a love letter?
My spiritual director once invited me to delight in God’s delighting in me. It felt strange in the beginning, but it was so meaningful to me once I let myself go there.
So, go there. Imagine God delighting in you. What would God say?
As you receive ashes this Valentine’s Day remember God’s gifts to you of repentance and grace. And remember that yes, you are dust AND you are also deeply, richly loved.
*The Rev. Julia Singleton is the lead pastor of Fox Chase UMC in Philadelphia and serves on EPA’s Conference Communications Committee.