This year the lunar calendar has given us a unique confluence of holidays on today’s date: Valentine’s Day, and the first day of Lent. Journalists are really playing up their antithetical nature . . . but maybe the two observances aren’t entirely at odds. After all, Lent is about reconnecting and deepening our intimacy with Love himself.
In the following poem Luci Shaw reflects on how human love, despite bold attestations to the contrary, is often ephemeral, whereas God is a “longer Lover” whose vow to love and to cherish is truly eternal, and is evidenced by daily tokens.
“Highway Song for Valentine’s Day” by Luci Shaw
“Kim, I love you — Danny”
On overhead and underpass,
beside the road, beyond the grass,
in aerosol or paint or chalk
the stones cry out, the billboards talk.
On rock and wall and bridge and tree,
boldly engraved for all to see,
hearts and initials intertwine
their passionate, short-lived valentine.
I’m listening for a longer Lover
whose declaration lasts forever:
from field and flower, through wind and breath,
in straw and star, by birth and death,
his urgent language of desire
flickers in dew and frost and fire.
This earliest spring that I have seen
shows me that tender love in green,
and on my windshield, clear and plain,
my Dearest signs his name in rain.
“Highway Song for Valentine’s Day” is published in Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation by Luci Shaw (Eerdmans, 2006) and is used here by permission of the publisher. Reproduction of the poem without express permission from Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company is a violation of copyright.
Unlike in her other poems, Shaw uses here a simple, singsongy meter (iambic tetrameter) that evokes the standard Valentine’s Day fare. Hinging the poem at stanza five, she spends the first half musing on the myriad ways in which young couples broadcast their love, and the second half recounting, by contrast, God’s declarations through nature, through miracle, through beauty. With a love both passionate and tender, he romances us. A soft wind, a starry night, the green of spring—these are his love letters.
This poem urges us to open ourselves to this divine wooing. While we’re busy longing and searching for some perfect love, we may be missing the tokens of God’s affection lavished on us right now.
Today, these words or something like them will be spoken by pastors all over the world:
Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.
Repent and believe the Good News: God longs for you to be whole.
And this scripture read: “Return to the LORD your God, for he is . . . abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:13).
We can still celebrate romantic love with our partner—which itself can be a gift and a blessing—but with our foreheads marked with ash, we ought to realize that this love is not ultimate. It is a shadow of a greater, fuller love offered to us from on high, by One who spared no expense in proving it, to the point of giving up his own life. “Greater love has no one than this” (John 15:13a).
And this Lover sends us valentines all year round.
So the next time you’re driving down the highway, caught in a rain shower, remember that you are beloved of God, and that he will never stop reaching out to you, beckoning you into a deeper relationship with him.
About the photos: In Cinque Terre, Italy, young couples wanting to declare their eternal love write their names on padlocks and attach them to wire mesh and cables along the Via dell’Amore (Lovers’ Lane). I took these photos in 2009.