February 14 is Ash Wednesday this year. It is also Valentine’s Day, which at first strikes one as a rather odd pairing. I have enjoyed all the Valentine’s Day/Lent memes and posts on social media. “You can’t spell Valentine with Lent,” is cute. And the little candy hearts that read: “Remember UR Dust” are a good chuckle. I must confess that I have smiled (disapprovingly) at the images of heart-shaped ash smudges on foreheads (funny, but, please, don’t do it). I wonder if there will be a significant decrease in the number of heart-shaped boxes of chocolate presented as tokens of affection. After all, chocolate is at the top of the list of Lenten fasts.
But the one thing we should not fast from in Lent is love.
The world does enough fasting from love most of the year. One needs only to watch the evening news to know this is true. The prophet Isaiah, however, reminds us that the fast the Lord chooses is not the practice of giving-up something, but, instead, the practice of acting out of love—self-giving sacrificial love for the freedom and life of all. “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”(Isaiah 58:6).
This Lent I invite all of us in the Diocese of Alaska to make the exercise of loving neighbor your Lenten discipline. Let us all seek daily to engage in acts of kindness towards others, patience in listening and understanding, humility in expressing our own opinions, generosity in giving and caring for others, and gentleness in our words.
In short: love your neighbor as yourself. Let this be your VaLENTine discipline.