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Everyday Theology

By Louise McEwan

02/15/2017

Expressions of love

Most of us recently celebrated Valentine’s Day and if you, like many, are cynical about this day, think again. Valentine’s Day is about feeling special — making others feel special and experiencing the feeling of being special.

As a celebration of love, Valentine’s Day gained traction in medieval times. Prior to the 14th century, it was a feast day in honour of St. Valentine. Valentine was a priest who defied Emperor Claudius II’s edict that forbad young men to marry, until he was caught, condemned and executed. As the legend goes, he healed and fell in love with the daughter of one of the judges who had condemned him. On the day of his execution he sent her a note and signed it “From your Valentine.” The salutation, as we know, has become standard, and frequently expresses the romantic attachment between two people.

Today’s culture emphasizes the romantic aspect of the day, probably because romance translates into dollars. Last year Canadians spent a whopping $3.38 billion on jewellery, $6.38 billion on wine, and $70.9 million on flowers in honour of romantic love.

The National Retail Council estimates that this year total consumer spending for Valentine’s Day in the United States will reach $18.2 billion. To be fair, some of that amount includes spending on gifts for children, parents, teachers, friends, co-workers, and pets. Still, lovers will spend, on average, over $85 on their significant other compared to about $27 on family members. They will spend $4.3 billion on jewellery, $3.8 billion on an evening out, and $2 billion on flowers.

Spending aside, the rituals of Valentine’s Day, from candlelight dinners at tony restaurants to cupcakes with pink icing and cinnamon hearts shared in an elementary school classroom, express many different forms of love.

The English language is not very inventive when it comes to describing love. We use the same word to describe the way we feel about all sorts of things. We might love to ski, our morning coffee, the movie we watched last night, or a special outfit. We love our pets. We love our spouse, children, parents and friends.

The ancient Greeks were more sophisticated when it came to describing emotional attachment. They spoke about six forms of love. Eros expressed passion or intense desire. It was the fire within, and like a fire, eros could get out of control and become destructive.

The concept of philia included friendship, appreciation of others, as well as loyalty to family, community and even the workplace.

Storge referred to the love between children and parents. Unlike eros and philia that depended on an individual’s personal qualities, storge arose from feelings of dependency.

Ludus could be the affection between young children, puppy love, or flirtatiousness. Ludus relationships were playful, casual and uncomplicated.

Agape referred to the love of God for man and of man for God. Agape was selfless and encompassed all humanity.

Pragma described the mature love found in successful marriages. Where eros expressed the feeling of falling madly in love, pragma reflected the will and commitment required to maintain a loving relationship for the long haul.

Philautia described love of self. Like eros, philautia could be good, as in having healthy self-esteem and treating one’s self with kindness, or bad, as in being narcissistic.

Valentine’s Day gives us a chance to celebrate the critical human experience of loving and of being loved across the spectrum of these various types of emotional attachments.

The simple acts of loving kindness that we enact on Valentine’s Day can move passion toward a mature and life-giving relationship, express friendship, enhance family bonds, communicate our concern for others, and nurture a sense of self-worth. In an otherwise ho-hum, often dreary month, Valentine’s Day rituals brighten the landscape of the heart.

My appreciation of Valentine’s Day has remained undiminished over the years. While never a big spender on the day, I like to mark it in some way. It’s a playful, light-hearted way to celebrate something that is of great importance — the beauty of relationship and the uniqueness of the individual.

Valentine’s Day celebrates our ability to love. While we may not have the vocabulary of the ancient Greeks to distinguish between and define the various forms of love, our Valentine’s Day rituals express them all — passion, friendship, self-giving, commitment and healthy love of self. Our rituals, large or small, are visible signs of the regard in which we hold one another. Regardless of spending, love makes everyone feel special.

Trail, B.C., resident Louise McEwan is a freelance writer, religion columnist and catechist. She has degrees in English and theology and is a former teacher. She blogs at www.faithcolouredglasses.blogspot.ca. Reach her at louisemcewan@telus.net