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St. Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2011


If I had been hit in the head with a hammer, I could not have been any more smitten.  I first saw Clare across the crowded cafeteria at Furman University.  We were both sophomores in the middle of first semester exams.  A study break in the cafeteria offered coffee, hot chocolate, and doughnuts.  I went for the food.  I found Clare.

I suppose you could say it was love at first sight.

Some believe that love at first sight is a myth.  Recent studies by scientists have shown that a small area of the brain responds differently to that one special person.  Deep within our gray matter, neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, are activated.  This reaction creates euphoria that corresponds to the feeling of love at first sight.

In ancient Roman mythology, Juno was identified as the goddess of love and marriage.  Her feast day was celebrated on February 15.  Each year the Romans conducted a three-day party called Lupercalia, which was, in essence, an early version of the “Dating Game.”  Eligible young men and women, who were single but old enough to be married, gathered for the celebration, complete with plenty of food, wine, and the inevitable matchmaking.

Couples brought together during Lupercalia were often struck by love at first sight.  The Romans believed that fluttering invisibly in their midst was the lesser god Cupid who fired his arrows indiscriminately.  They thought that an unsuspecting subject struck by Cupid’s arrow would fall in love with the next person who came into view.  I suppose it would be a little like being hit in the head with a hammer or being love struck in the Furman cafeteria.

Interestingly, marriages often resulted from the matchmaking of Juno’s feast.

In Rome during the time of the persecutions under Claudius, a young Christian priest named Valentine often visited those who were in prison, giving them comfort and consolation.  His kindness was motivated, not by romantic love, but by godly love.  His desire as a priest was to remind those suffering that God is faithful in every circumstance.  Valentine demonstrated the love of God that never fails.

The Romans arrested Valentine when they learned that he violated the law by performing marriages for Christian couples.  On February 14, 269 A.D., during the Feast of Lupercalia, Valentine was martyred.  He was beheaded on the altar of the goddess Juno.  Later canonized by the church, he became known as St. Valentine.

St. Valentine’s Day in our culture has become a time to express romantic love with chocolate, flowers, and heart-shaped cards.  By all rights, February 14 ought also to be a time to express a much deeper love.

Over the years the love that Clare and I share has grown into love that exceeds that first infatuation. It is a love that is deeply committed.

As St. Paul put it, this is “love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. It is love that never fails.”


Kirk H. Neely
© February 2011


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