Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The High Courts of Love + The 14th of February

Note:  I have chosen to arrange this post so that the historical background of St. Valentine's Day appears before my personal discourse and discovery of the Day for Love.  If you are less interested in the data, and would prefer to just observe insight from another perspective, I would suggest scrolling down to just below the Roses are Red poem to the paragraph beginning, "So I am not sure any of this work..."

Whichever point you find yourself on the continuum of St. Valentine's Day sentiment, I do not believe a heart exists outside of, or beyond, its spectrum of influence.  Sure, many see only the bad, and those of such opinion may readily contest my belief.  Yet, I would remind the skeptics that negative associations remain to be emotions, and humans have yet to discover how to avoid the affects of emotion.  Thus, Cupid's arrow still carries the sting, and his arbitrary target practice renders February 14th an annual excuse to disdain love.  But why let the American commercialization of yet *ANOTHER* holiday control the possiblity or mask the opportunity for something good?  For me, I had just lost contact with what the day was purposed to acheive.  It can't be all bad (as much as I think that would be easier), so I went on a quest to redeem the chubby cherib.  As [almost] always, I googled it.  

For starters, who is Mr. Valentine?  Well, there are actually 2 known martyrs of this appelation: St. Valentine of Terni (AD 197) and St. V. of Rome (AD 269).  However, by the time these two Casanovas were linked to the romance of 2.14, they had become one memory.  Not much is known of Val, except that he/they was/were buried on the Via Flaminia on the day we now celebrate. 

So, how did these two young chaps get hooked up on the love train?  The historical data, as it relates to the romantic tradition, actually presents a sketchy link.  Yet, as the origins of V-day, the subject remains worthy of consideration. The medeival acta, or "acts" of the saints appear in the haiographical Legenda Aurea [a.k.a.: The Golden Legend (the G.L. from here on), circa 1260 AD, is the Medeival equivilent of today's Harry Potter or Twighlight series--the "everyone-and-their-mother has read/loved/watched the movie/bought the T-shirt" fad.  However, instead of twisting tales of vampiers, warewolves and witchery, the G.L. records the fanciful accounts of the Saints as an anthology.]  Anyhow, the historical records state that Val was a Christian who came into contact with the Roman Emperor Claudius II.  Claud kind of liked Val, so the Emporer tried to convince Val to convert to pagaenism in order to save his life.  Val wouldn't concede, and in reply, he offered an audacious presentation instead, trying to convert Claud to Christianity.  Well, Val's "Come to Jesus" session didn't sit so well with Claud, who was not exactly enthused by Val's blatant disrespect.  And immediately, Claud called for Val's execution.  Suggestively, while awaiting his death, Val healed the blind daughter of his jailer.  A seemingly random point, but the significance ties in to the story at a later crossroad. 

So, those are the key points as recorded in the G.L., commonly accepted to be largely representative of historical fact. As for the modern romantic connection, we can attribute to the great "historical investigations" of American Greetings.  As posted on the history.com website (submitted by none other than American greetings), we read the story of a harsh Roman Emperor Claudius II who would not allow his soldiers to marry because he believed they would be less-effective warriors.  The love-crazed St. Valentine believed so faithfully in love, that he would secretly officiate the marriages of the soldiers.  When Claud discovered this treason, he ordered Val be put to death.  And then, while imprisoned before his execution, St. Val fell in love with the jailer's daughter, who would come to visit him everyday leading up to his death.  The day of his execution, February 14th of the 2nd or 3rd century, St. Val allegedly wrote the first "valentine" to Miss Jailer's Daughter, signing the note, "From your Valentine..."  Thankfully, history.com concedes the potential mysticism of this lore, a legend that most-certainly romanticizes the tale of a Christian martyr.  

From the 3rd century A.D., no St. Val romantic reference appears in literature until the 14th century, A.D.,  when Chaucer ushers in the use of the Saint's Day in reference to a season when birds meet to find their mate.  The poem, Parlement of Foules, was commissioned for the wedding of the 15-year olds, Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia.  Cute. 

Now, the connection has been made.  France becomes the center of the world during the Early Renaissance and Enlightenment Periods.  The world comes together in Paris and explores life, learning and love.  On St. Valentine's Day in 1400 A.D., the High Courts of Love are established in Paris.  The special court deals with matters between lovers, betrayal, and the abuse of women.  Interestingly, the judges in the courts are elected by the women.  And the basis of their selection, a poem submitted by applicants.  These poems came to be known as, Valentines.  The earliest surviving record of such a Valentine is scribed by Charles d'Orleans from the 15th century who was being held in Captivity in England.  His submission was a poem for his wife, and in French, it reads:

Je suis desja d'amour tanné
Ma tres doulce Valentinée...
Charles d'Orléans, Rondeau VI, lines 1–2
The proliferation of this idea lead to an onslaught of literary references, and soon, the idea of Valentine's Day as a special day for lovers became tradition. An interesting note, we are all familiar with, "Roses are red. Violets are blue...," but the origins of this poem are actually from Edmond Spencer's, The Fairee Queen. The original text reads...

"She bath'd with roses red, and violets blew,
And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew."

Grammar's Garland Nursery Rhymes took off on this epic piece of literature and offers us,

The rose is red, the violet's blue
The honey's sweet, and so are you
Thou are my love and I am thine
I drew thee to my Valentine
The lot was cast and then I drew
And Fortune said it shou'd be you.

So, I am not sure if any of this work has acted to redeem or expose the origins of the Holiday for the Heart, but for me, I think I am ready to reclaim St. Valentine's Day, fable or fact. I do tend to question tradition--and not to rebel against tradition alone for rebellion's sake--but so that I do not forsake the richness and fullness of its origins. To take a retrospective glance reveals the rose-scented road that has brought us to dancing teddy bears and kiss-print boxers. This discovery liberates me to decide for myself whether, or not, this is an occasion I will accept, reject, or choose to redeem.

And the verdict. For me, I think this one may take some intentional redemptive measures, but I am none-the-less confident it can be done. Over the years, I have bounced between being jaded (wearing black on Feb. 14), rebellious (Single's Awareness Day! YAY!) and/or compensating (Jesus is my Valentine--true, but not legitimately the spirit of the day). As for today, I will choose to redeem. Because Valentine's Day IS a day for lovers. So, although I have no such attachment in 2011, I can recognize the holiday each year, but without feeling any pressure to compensate or yield.

I think of it like this. I am not Muslim, so I do not feel the need to participate in the fasts of Ramadan. Yet, I also feel no need to criticize, react, nor justify my absence in the festivities. Conversely, I am a person who loves God and Jesus. There are many days which carry a special significance to my faith. Passover, for example. Although I am thankful for the covenant between God and Abraham every single day, the Passover feast is a special time for me to fully embrace the gift of God's goodness. I just imagine a young boy in Jerusalem, participating in the ceremonies of the sacrificial lamb for the first time. Passover would be a yearly festival known to the young boy since his birth. Yet on this year, the festival carries unprecedented excitement, honor and significance--an experience that will hang heavily in his heart until the day of his death.

For me, I think I would like to look at Valentine's Day as such. No red balloons or boxed chocolates for me right now, but that is perfectly okay. I am presently not of station to participate in V-Day, but just as the young boy experiences the the yearly festivals since birth, his waiting period does not spoil his anticipation with shame or resentment, but he can cherish the day that he should be the one to bring the family sacrifice to the altar. Even now, I can see the goodness, and one day, if/when it is my turn to "carry the lamb to the altar," I will be ready to meet the occasion with steadfast joy and profound understanding and humility.

So, my charge to the Beyonce Crew/Single Ladies and the Bachelors 'til the Rapture--time for us all to sluff-off the shame+guilt associated with not appearing on Cupid's hit list, and maybe even be thankful for another year of escaping the crazy, toxic venom of Chunk's arrows. 

To all my Romeos and Juliets, Ferdinands and Isabellas, Guineveres and Lancelots, Edwards and Bellas, Bennifers and Brangelinas--equally time to stop taking for granted the goodness of Valentine's Day by cheapening it with false love or gifts not worthy to be brought to the altar. To bring back the metaphor, families would literally spend an entire year's wages just to bring a worthy sacrifice to the temple--all in hopes of begging God to remember their covenant. The promises of their faith rested in their traditions. Imagine the streets of Jerusalem perverted with paper cut-outs of lambs and pigeons and cotton-stuffed animals that perhaps even sing the scriptures. Impossible.  But if the Jews forget the origins of their traditions, perhaps this possibility becomes plausible, and even logical, considering the costs. Yet, what a profound detriment tied to the loss of the heritage of such rituals. And if the annual sacrifice could be purchased at a market on your way to the altar--with little, or no, effort and from only an hour's wages--would the redeeming covenant retain its potency? Suggestively, perhaps the real "gifts" of St. Valentine's Day have been muffled in the convenient markets filled with paper cut-outs and plush toys masquerading as the true gifts, leaving the Lover's Day empty or cheapened. 

Perhaps when the brokenness of Valentine's Day is restored, all hearts can be truly filled on February the 14th--either through God's gift of romantic love, or the hope found in God's love for romance.

Thanks for stopping by. Happy Valentine's Day. Stay dusty.

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