At first glance, it’s an odd juxtaposition: Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday; a day celebrating romance matched up against the beginning of Lent. The tradition of giving boxed chocolates paired with the practice of giving up of chocolate for the season immediately comes to mind (will you have to wait until April to open that box?).

Images of dreamy, candle-lit dinners, wine glasses raised in celebration mingle with somber candle-lit sanctuaries where people kneel to receive ashes on their foreheads. What a strange combination as these two “events” coincide. On further reflection though, there’s a counter-balance these two days offer that speaks to the truth about us and life itself.

Really, aren’t our lives some sort of point and counter-point? Yes, we “fall in love” but to keep a relationship alive takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice. I would be willing to bet that every person in a relationship has experienced those days when you’ve looked at your partner and wondered,

“What the heck have I gotten myself into?!”

And while Lent begins with ashes and reminders that we have come from dust and to dust we shall return, the spiritual practices of Lent are meant to help us delve more deeply into life, to become more alive and aware of the presence of God in ourselves and others and the world around us.

Both days, too, have a sort of “once upon a time” beginning that leads us into much more difficult story-lines than we might have anticipated at the start, and more profound rewards than we could have imagined at the beginning. Both seek to honor love as we experience it — both as affection and commitment, giving and receiving, sacrifice and wonder. It’s the nature of both love and faith that mystery and the mundane intermingle. Have you ever tried to explain to someone other than your beloved, why you love that person? Or put to words what your faith means to you? In either case, words at the very least become inadequate.

So, this juxtaposition of romance and Lent maybe is not so odd after all, it just requires us to look a little deeper and experience the connection. Interestingly enough, this year’s calendar offers another odd intersection of days — Easter falls on April 1, but that’s fodder for another column …

Jonathan Eastman is pastor of the St. Helena Presbyterian Church.

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