A good friend claims, on occasion, “God must be a woman”. She’s a woman of faith, a lover of Jesus, a woman who in a previous life would have embraced the 16th century Spanish mystic St. Teresa of Avila as a sister. St. Teresa, who saw herself as a lover of Jesus, who wrote love letters to Him, was considered by some, in her day, to be a blasphemer.
Neither she, nor my friend, is a blasphemer. Both are lovers.
Today, on Valentine’s Day, after we have been encouraged for weeks with commercials to prepare for an orgy of materialistic and hedonistic pleasure, it may be worthwhile to think about love – and lovers.
My inbox was filled with messages like: “Saying the three simple words to convey your love is rather a difficult task. To make it easy for you, we bring you a stream of floral arrangements at a 10% discount. Sent over 7, 5, 3 or 2 days, they are sure to floor your beloved. So make every moment of the Valentine season magical with these alluring floral compositions. Please use the promo code ‘yyy’ to enjoy the offer.”
“Saying three simple words to convey your love is rather a difficult task?” Frankly, at the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, and as one who loves flowers and who occasionally sends them, I think it’s more difficult, and totally unsatisfying, to deal with the maintenance and eventual decay of seven days of wilting, uninspired floral arrangements – beauty once living, cut off at the stem, intended, via ecommerce, as an token of everlasting love. This holiday has become so over-the-top consumer-obsessive we risk losing sight of what matters here:
“It is love alone that gives worth to all things,” said St. Teresa.
My friend’s statement about God being a woman is based on more than a capacity for being a lover. Woman bear a womb, God’s dwelling place, through which life passes. The miracles of Ishmael and Isaac, the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Birth, in-vitro fertilization and a capacity for surrogate motherhood testify to women as givers and sustainers of life.
“Accustom yourself continually to make many acts of love, for they enkindle and melt the soul,” St. Teresa.
Perhaps over millennia monotheistic patriarchs, the self-assigned protectors of both scripture and privilege compelled male gender-assignment to God. Perhaps it was because of an envy of women, and their unlimited capacity for compassion, love and beauty, that made them force women into submissive roles. Perhaps there was a misogyny that predated their scriptures from which they could not free themselves.
Perhaps that is true. The result, unfortunately, that what is now true is that women have not received the equal status with which God endowed them.
“She will guide you down delightful paths; all her ways are satisfying,” says Proverbs 3:17. So let it be true today, let us affirm on Valentine’s Day, that with their gift of being able to bear life as well as their generous capacity as lovers, that men acknowledge women’s gender equity and equality.
“She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed,” Proverbs 3:18.
Here, along our Seacoast, we are used to walking along the shore, looking toward the Isles of Shoals, marveling at the beauty of sunrises, the delicacy of patterns in the sand, the reflections of full moons and the unending rhythm of the waves, whitecaps topping out, spreading out before us. Look carefully, next time, at the spaces between those waves, where it appears to be a suspended moment of calm. Look for that space between those waves – and listen.
Woman. Today, that is my gift to you. I listen. I embrace the power of your beauty, your love, your compassion, the richness of your love, and listen. When the flowers have wilted, the memory of the candle-lighted meal has faded, the diamonds returned to the jewelry box, when the sweat has dried, listen.
That should be the gift that all should give – embrace the other, and listen.
“God is beautiful and God loves all that is beautiful,” Hadith.
This afternoon, invited by an old friend at MIT, a polymath for whom no new idea is not worth examining, I will be spending Valentine’s Day in Cambridge. I will walk along the Charles, attend a lecture and have dinner with friends and colleagues, challenging and sharing ideas, good food and humor. A day doesn’t get much better than that.
Tonight, refreshed, I’ll return to Exeter, again reminded by St Teresa that, “What a great favor God does to those He places in the company of good people!”