“It is love alone that gives worth to all things.” — Saint Teresa
Saint Teresa of Avila frequently comes to mind when I think of Valentine’s Day. While many embrace the day with long-stemmed red roses (which I personally do not find particularly beautiful), elaborate dinners, engagement rings, and sometimes the promise of sex, concepts of love are unacceptably, in my mind, conflated with commercialism and profit.
Instead, I find Valentine’s Day a time to reflect — maybe because I really don’t like roses, teddy bears, teddies and diamonds — on love, women and friends — and on beauty and the Beloved.
A well-known story told about Saint Teresa tells of her riding in a horse-drawn cart in Spain during a rainstorm. The cart hit a huge rock and collapsed onto the roadway, throwing Teresa ignominiously into the muddy tracks. Saint Teresa complained to Jesus (wouldn’t we all?) about being treated so badly while in the service of God. A voice came to her from the heavens: “This is how I treat my friends, Teresa.”
Wiping the mud from her face, she answered, “No wonder you have so few!”
Friends and lovers.
Those who test us, those whom we love, those whom we embrace.
The few we cherish.
Muhammad Asad, who was born a Jew, Leopold Weiss, in Vienna, writes, “After all, it was a matter of love, and love is composed of many things; of our desires and our loneliness, of our high aims and our shortcomings, of our strengths and our weaknesses. So it was in my case. Islam came over me like a robber who enters a house by night; but, unlike a robber, it entered to remain for good,” as he describes his embrace of Islam.
“Accustom yourself continually to make many acts of love, for they enkindle and melt the soul.”
— Saint Teresa
I have a friend who sometimes says, “God must be a woman.” She speaks from her experience as lover and mother. She is, as was Saint Teresa, a lover of Jesus. I believe she understands, as I believe, that because women bear God’s dwelling place, through which all life passes, there is a capacity for passion, love, forgiveness and generosity that we men sometimes do not embrace. She understands that in embracing the Beloved, women have borne for believers the gifts of Ishmael and Isaac, the Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth.
In embracing the Beloved, women sustain us all.
“Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” — Proverbs 3:17
We are surrounded by signs of the Beloved.
Here, in New Hampshire, whether walking along the shore of the Isles of Shoals, strolling the banks of the Squamscott River or climbing Mount Monadnock, we witness beauty everywhere.
“God is beautiful and God loves all that is beautiful.” — Hadith
Witness the memory of the call to prayer before the sun rises, the fragrance of breath, light reflected in a lily’s petal, the color of fall foliage and the echo of bells pealing from a neighboring parish.
Witness the quiet of nightfall and the promise of dawn.
Witness the rhythm of the waves pounding the beach. Witness spaces between those waves — and listen.
Embrace the other, and listen.
“She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed.” — Proverbs 3:18
Today, Valentine’s Day, let us affirm to our lovers, to givers of life, to all those who witness and celebrate the diversity and richness of the gifts with which we have been blessed. Let us affirm that we will remain in harmony with each other, with the earth — with the Beloved.
We are lucky, you and I, to be in each other’s presence.
I listen. I succumb to the power of beauty, to love and compassion. I succumb to the richness of desire, passion and imagination.
I succumb to the promise of dawn.
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.