By REV. LUNA DINGAYAN
“Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail.”
– I Corinthians 13:4-7
This month of February has been regarded as love month, and February 14 particularly has been designated as Valentine’s Day in commemoration of the life of St. Valentine. As to who exactly was St. Valentine is still a mystery up to these days.
There are lots of stories about the origin of this religious festival. One story says that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men who were potential soldiers. Valentine realized that such a decree was unjust. And so, he defied the Emperor and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Emperor Claudius ordered that he be put to death.
Other stories say that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured.
There are lots of other stories about the historical origin of this festival. But all these stories have a common theme; they all celebrate the noble meaning of romantic love.
The problem with some of our religious festivals today is the fact that they tend to be secularized and commercialized, and in the process they would lose their original meaning and intention. One of the reasons for this is that Christians or the church, for instance, tend to view romantic love as something outside of God’s concern. It is a taboo! It should not be discussed in the church.
And so the deeper meaning of romantic love is not being taught to potential
lovers. No wonder our society is filled up of all sorts of distorted expressions of love relationship, like annulment, legal separation, live-in, querida system, and many others.
Songs of Love
In the Bible, there is a book of love songs included and canonized by the church. Those who would not like to sing love songs in church should realize that the Bible itself actually contains a book of love songs called the Song of Songs. One of my seminary students had a shock of his life when he came to know that there is a book of love songs in the Bible and the lyrics are even more vulgar that those of today’s love songs.
In ancient documents, the book is entitled Song of Solomon. But scholars today believed that though the book was attributed to King Solomon perhaps due to his great passion for women, having one thousand wives and concubines; the real writer perhaps was the beautiful Shunammite woman named Abishag, who served in the royal court in the last days of King David (cf. I Kings 1:1-4). This could be supported by the fact that most romance books today are actually written by women. Apparently, women are more creative and imaginative than men in terms of romantic love.
The Song of Songs has been very controversial from the very start. Biblical interpreters who have negative attitude towards romantic love being openly discussed in religious circles would raise questions as to why in the world the book was included in the Bible in the first place.
And so, to make most of this book, they tried to spiritualize it. They use it as an allegory or a metaphor to represent the love of God for the Israelites or the love of Christ for the church. While this approach may be helpful, it does not take into serious consideration the realities and issues addressed by the songs, which are about romantic love.
Part of God’s Concern
There are at least two very important lessons that the Song of Songs would like to remind us. First and foremost, that the love relationship between a man and a woman is part of God’s concern.
The mere fact that God has created us male and female would indicate this reality. Besides, the inclusion of the Song of Songs in the Holy Scriptures is an affirmation of this faith. Unfortunately, in our Filipino culture, it is a taboo to discuss the love relationship between a man and a woman, even in the church.
And so, young people are not given proper guidance in entering into this kind of relationship.
They have to seek help from other sources, which are in many cases not in keeping with Christian values and with Christian way of life. No wonder, it was reported last year that the Cordillera Region has the highest incidents of teenage pregnancies. Perhaps, incidents like this could be prevented if only adults or parents would equip their children with the right Christian values and orientation they badly need to face this particular stage in their life.
We must affirm once again that matrimonial relationship is ordained of God from the very beginning. It is part of God’s concern. And therefore it is a sacred kind of relationship.
This reminds me of Martin Luther, the great German Protestant reformer in the 16th Century. Together with his fellow Protestant reformers, he declared that matrimony is not a sacrament because it is not instituted by Christ himself unlike baptism and the Lord’s Supper. A sacrament as we know is a channel of God’s grace.
But then, he got married to a nun named Catherine von Bora and had children. And soon, he realized that matrimonial relationship will never succeed without the grace of God. Husband and wife are two distinct personalities so that unless we have God’s grace to accept and forgive each other’s uniqueness, limitations, and weaknesses, matrimonial relationship will never prosper.
Love Beyond Measure
And secondly, that genuine love between a man and a woman is beyond measure. Power, fame, and fortune cannot measure genuine love. The story behind the Song of Songs is actually a story of genuine love between a woman and a man. Solomon, who later on became king of Israel, was attracted to a beautiful woman from Shumen named Abishag, who took care of King David in the last days of his life (cf. I Kings 1).
King Solomon wanted Abishag to be one among his many wives. But then Abishag had a lover who was a lowly shepherd. Shepherds in those days were among the poorest of the poor. Abishag was faithful to her lover, so much so that no matter how King Solomon courted her, she would not like to exchange the purity of her love with power, fame, and fortune promised by this rich and powerful monarch.
In her song, the beautiful woman from Shumen said, “Let the King have sixty queens, eighty concubines, young women without number! But I love only one.” (Song of Songs 6:8-9). Indeed, Abishag’s faithfulness to her lowly shepherd lover is a great commentary and precious reminder for a lot of love relationships today.
This reminds me of one of my visits in Dumaguete City. I stayed in the house of our former General Secretary of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), Bishop Erme R. Camba, in Banilad. I was really surprise to see many beautiful mansions mushrooming in the area.
I was told that the beautiful mansions lined up along the beach were actually houses of couples wherein the man was usually a retired American old man who divorced his wife in the US, came to the Philippines, took a young Filipina wife, and built a mansion near the beach with his retirement pension. And so, he would have a care-giver and a wife at the same time.
Due to poverty some Filipino women thought it more practical to marry old foreigners hoping that they would be uplifted from the quagmire of poverty. Indeed, it is a very far cry from Abishag’s genuine love that is never measured by material things in life.
And so, let us be reminded once again that genuine love is beyond measure. Apostle Paul defined this kind of love when he said in his Letter to the Corinthians, “Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail (I Cor. 13:7-12). # nordis.net