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By Barbara McDowall

Another Valentine's Day has come and gone and what have we learned?  How conscious were we as we celebrated this 'one day of love'?  In the conversations I shared with people about this time of the year and the subject of Love, a few things stand out which were fodder for a number of questions.  So here goes.  Why is love only celebrated one day in the year?  Some would say it's only an evening.  How did love become so romanticized, so Hallmark-ed sufficiently that we have forgotten its original and very powerful message?

According to a brief internet search, Valentine's Day 'became associated with romantic love in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished'. It arrived in North America in the 19th century with the arrival of the first British immigrants and has been a ubiquitous part of North American culture ever since.  Thus began the commercialization of love as we know it today.

It seems, however, the more we leave our spirituality behind the more commercialized is our response to real and deep love.  We have become afraid of love and loving.  We have become obsessed with the romantic version of love.

The only reality is love; all else is illusion based on fear.  Love lies at the heart of all the world's faith traditions along with compassion and acceptance.  God is love and we are expressions of God.  Therefore, we are also living, breathing expressions of God's love.  In the Christian faith, Jesus was a living example of God on earth.  He expressed the unconditional nature of God's love in every waking moment wherever he found himself with those around him.  He didn't need to qualify that love.  It just was.  John Shelby Spong's understanding of the Jesus story paints a marvelous picture.  He talks about Jesus living 'a life fully lived for others, a love wastefully shared with others and a picture of one who has the courage to be all that he was created to be'.  What a beautiful image.

However, in today's world we can be quite stingy with our love.  More often than not, we hold onto our love and rarely give it away except under very limited and specific conditions.  Often times, we seem only to focus on the romantic variety of love which is frequently only shared with the person we are intimate with and/or with our immediate families. 

When I first began sharing my expressions of love with those in my life outside the realm of loved ones or immediate family, I found myself having to qualify that expression.  After all what would they think, what might their expectations be, would they want something from me?  I might have to take responsibility for that love.  Since those days though, I am far more comfortable in sharing how I truly feel with those around me.  And I don't qualify my love any longer.  Life is too short and I never know when I will have the opportunity to share how I feel with those in my life.

What if Valentine's Day was a more conscious exercise of looking at love from a spiritual perspective?  We are told in our scriptures we are to love our neighbour as ourselves.  But what does that really mean?  What if we don't love ourselves at all or very little?  Wouldn't that affect how we are able to love our neighbour?  It might give us some insight into some of the behaviour we see in the world.

We are urged to love God with our heart, mind and soul.  And that seems to be the end of it.  However, Jesus goes beyond that and urges us to love our enemies.  Mary Manin Morrissey believes our enemies are in fact a gift and says; 'Our friends may test our patience now and then, but rarely do they challenge us to grow our goodness the way an enemy does'.

What if we began from this moment on to look at how well we love; not just on the 14th of February every year?  What if we made a concerted and conscious effort to 'do' love differently and with more intention and meaning?  What would happen and how would we feel if we lived fully for others, and wastefully shared our love with them and had the courage to be all we are created to be which, of course, is Love.

Authentic Living