‘It is love alone that gives worth to all things.” – Saint Teresa
Saint Teresa of Ávila comes to mind when I think of Valentine’s Day. While many embrace the day with long-stemmed red roses, elaborate dinners, engagement rings and sometimes the promise of sex, such concepts of pleasure and love are unacceptably, in my mind, conflated with commercialism and profit.
Instead, I find today a time to reflect (maybe because I’m not a big fan of roses, teddy bears, teddies and diamonds) on love, women and friends – on ecstasy, beauty and the Beloved.
A well-known story told about Teresa tells of her riding in a horse-drawn cart in Spain during a severe rainstorm. The cart hit a huge rock and collapsed onto the roadway, tossing 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.
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.
A friend says, “God must be a woman.” She speaks from her experience as mother and lover. She’s 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 Virgin Birth.
In embracing the Beloved, women sustain us.
“Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” – Proverbs 3:17
Be mindful: We are surrounded by signs of the Beloved.
Witness New Hampshire’s granite outcroppings.
Be mindful: Whether walking along the shores of the Isles of Shoals, kayaking the Contoocook, strolling the banks of the Merrimack River, climbing Mount Monadnock or experiencing the varieties and beauty of human creation at the Currier Museum beauty – the evidence of creation – lies everywhere.
“God is beautiful and God loves all that is beautiful.” — Hadith.
Today, consider not just reflections of candlelight, the shimmering of a perfectly-formed crème caramel, the clinking of goblets and champagne’s fleeting effervescence.
Reflect instead on the call to prayer before the sun rises, the fragrance of breath, the light reflected in a lily’s petal, the color of fall foliage, the blast of the shofar and the echo of bells pealing from a neighboring parish.
Be attentive to the quiet of nightfall and the promise of dawn.
Be attentive to the rhythm of waves pounding the beach. Witness the spaces between 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, affirm to loved ones, to our lovers and to bearers and givers of life, to all who witness and celebrate the diversity and richness of the gifts with which we have been blessed that we will remain in harmony with each other, with the earth – with the Beloved.
Rabi’a of Basra (Iraq), a female Sufi mystic and poet, wrote:
If I adore You out of fear of Hell,
Burn me in Hell!
If I adore you out of desire for Paradise,
Lock me out of Paradise.
But if I adore you for Yourself alone,
Do not deny to me Your eternal beauty.
Succumb to beauty and the devotions of ecstasy, to love and compassion – succumb to the fullness of desire, passion and imagination.
Succumb to the promise of dawn.
Succumb to your Beloved.
This column appeared originally in the Concord Monitor.