Happy Valentine’s Day! I know, I know… so many of us do not like this holiday. It’s too commercialized, we say. We don’t need card-makers or florists to tell us how or when to show affection. Some of us don’t like Valentine’s Day because it reminds us of loves we have lost or never found. I get it. This day can seem shallow, overhyped, and falsely sentimental. It can be lonely. And yet, I won’t let today pass without celebrating and honoring love. Love is too important to concede to commercial interests.
Love, in its many forms, keep us alive and able to endure. Love is powerful because it is expansive, growing in unexpected places and ways. We tend to separate our celebrations of romantic love, friendship, familial love, self-love, and religious devotion. We make distinctions between our valentines and “galentines.” Rarely do we shout for joy in ecstatic worship while also celebrating the passionate longings of our innermost desires. But occasionally, in my religious tradition, we let our disparate loves come together. We unite them on holy feast days, enjoying the sensual pleasures of good food and company to mark spiritual occasions. So that’s my inspiration. Today, I’m celebrating love by reflecting on various forms of love merged together and sharing insight from poets and mystics about the power and beauty experienced in love.
Meister Eckhart, the German mystic, wrote :
What keeps us alive, what allows us to endure?
I think it is the hope of loving,
or being loved.
I heard a fable once about the sun going on a journey
to find its source, and how the moon wept
without her lover’s
We weep when light does not reach our hearts. We wither
like fields if someone close
does not rain their
First, I celebrate erotic love and power.
Audre Lorde warned us that the erotic is often confused with the pornographic, but they are quite different. In “The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” Lorde explains that the erotic is a source of power and information for women, and it should not be feared or relegated only to sex. Fear of the erotic provokes us to disregard our internal sense of satisfaction, which can be properly used as a measure of the depth of feeling we have for something or someone. When we distrust the erotic power within, we seek to suppress it or limit it only to sexual activity sanctioned by our communities. But Lorde encourages us to embrace a fuller experience of the erotic in love, in art, in work, and in activism. She writes, “Within the celebration of the erotic in all our endeavors, my work becomes a conscious decision–a longed-for bed which I enter gratefully and from which I rise up empowered.”  Her poetic words reveal that the erotic entails consent, consciousness, desire, pleasure, and empowerment; it is sexual energy that is not demanded or dismissed, but thoughtfully sought and shared. That is what distinguishes it from the pornographic. And so, I celebrate erotic love and power in relationships, in vocations, in callings, and in service.
I also celebrate erotic love and power in our spiritual connections.
The erotic appears in mystical writings to express a mutual desire between humanity and the divine. Erotic language poignantly communicates that we desire God and God desires us. This is, after all, the reason provided by many Christians who are uncomfortable with overt sexual language for the inclusion of Song of Solomon in their Bibles! It’s an allegory of God or Christ’s love for the church, they say. Erotic language conveys the delight we may experience in our spirituality. Thomas Aquinas, a theologian most often known for his scholastic or systematic compositions, has also written :
Sing, my tongue; sing, my hand;
sing, my feet, my knee,
my loins, my
Indeed I am His
We are not merely souls or minds or spirits. We are embodied beings. It seems appropriate, therefore, to speak of our whole selves loving what is most sacred. At my best, my whole self seeks God and praises God.
But how can I love God with my whole self if I denigrate myself? If I despise parts of my being, how can I share them with the divine? By opening ourselves up to love, we make ourselves vulnerable to rejection. In love’s truest forms, we find acceptance and delight. Catherine of Siena wrote :
What is it
you want to change?
Your hair, your face, your body?
For God is
in love with all those things
and He might weep
when they are
There are times, though, when our God feels distant, our romance has faded, and family and friends are preoccupied their own stuff. This is when loving ourselves, despite what we wish to change, becomes critical. You know how the song goes: ”Learning to love yourself… is the greatest love of all.” Loving ourselves may be hardest, but most necessary, when we feel that the other forms of love are lacking. Valentine’s Day can intensify those feelings. I know–believe me–I know. Today, I’m grieving, I’m away from family, and I miss my sweetheart.
So today, especially today, I celebrate self-love.
 Meister Eckart, “The Hope of Loving,” p. 109 in Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West, translated by Daniel Ladinsky.
 Audre Lorde, “The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” p. 209 in Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality, edited by Judith Plaskow and Carol P. Christ.
 Thomas Aquinas, “His Choir,” p. 130 in Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West, translated by Daniel Ladinsky.
 Catherine of Siena, “Your Hair, Your Face,” p. 203 in Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West, translated by Daniel Ladinsky.
Elise M. Edwards, PhD is a Lecturer in Christian Ethics at Baylor University and a graduate of Claremont Graduate University. She is also a registered architect in the State of Florida. Her interdisciplinary work examines issues of civic engagement and how beliefs and commitments are expressed publicly. As a black feminist, she primarily focuses on cultural expressions by, for, and about women and marginalized communities. Follow her on twitter or academia.edu.
Categories: Art, Body, Books, Christianity, Community, Embodiment, Erotic, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Feminist Theology, God, Love, Poetry, power, Relationality, Spirituality, Women Mystics, Women's Voices