What’s Love Got To Do With It? Reflections On Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, and Lent

By Paul Brandeis Raushenbush

In one of those beautiful and strange holy day coincidences, this year Ash Wednesday, which inaugurates the Christian season of Lent, falls on the same day as Valentine’s Day, a holiday with obscure origins that may or may not include a martyred saint, but that now has become synonymous with love.

What next?  Easter on April Fools Day?  Oh… wait.   Well, more about that later.

Holy days, like Ash Wednesday and Lent break into our ‘normal’ lives and give us the opportunity to step back, reflect on our lives, and imagine the world not only as it is, but as it might be.  Last month, we turned to Auburn’s Dean, Rabbi Justus Baird and Jewish partners for reflections that connected the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat to the movement for environmental justice.

Likewise, we invited some of our Christian friends to share how they were connecting Ash Wednesday and Lent to Valentine’s Day so that we might gain inspiration for the mandate to love one another that is found in all of our traditions.

We are inspired by Dr. Keisha McKenzie’s call to justice with a Conscious Love and Conscious Lent, by Rev. Marian Edmonds-Allen’s deep love found in Glitter Ash Wednesday initiated by the group Parity, and an environmental justice approach to love and Lent in a piece When Roses and Ashes Collide by Aana Marie, Vigen, Ph.D. 

I’m thankful to all of our partners and friends who offered brief reflections below including Sister Simone Campbell, Rev. Jennifer Bailey, Rev. James Martin, SJ, the Rev. Dr. David AndersonRev. Mark Hostetter, the Rev. Dr. Janet Edwards, the Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, and Pastor Brian McLaren.  I pray that we might all love fiercely no matter what holy days you celebrate and together create a more just world.

The intersection of Valentine’s day and Ash Wednesday is the mystery of roses and thorns. Justice, like thorns, is the fierce struggle to ensure that all can bloom. Ash Wednesday is the embodiment of thorns in this struggle. The sacrifice and struggle of Lent is the religious journey to  ensure the flowering of love in our lives. It is as recounted in the “Little Prince,” we are each responsible for our rose. The Ash Wednesday struggle yields the full blooming of Valentine’s. It is the rose of love in our lives. A day and intersection so worth celebrating.  

— Sister Simone Campbell, Auburn Senior Fellow and  Executive Director of Network


As a Christian, both the season of Lent and Valentine’s Day remind me that love is not an adjective but a practice. Each day we must recommit ourselves to the act of loving even when that act feels impossible. Like Jesus in the wilderness, I often find ourselves tempted to give up on love when things get hard especially because my faith compels me to love my enemy. In our tense political and cultural moment, this command has become more difficult that I could have imagined. That’s why I have to keep working that love muscle, to practice and tone it so that when the time comes for me to put love in action it is not a choice but second nature.

— Rev. Jennifer Bailey, Auburn Media Trainer and Co-Founder of the Faith Matters Network


Ash Wednesday can seem a sad day–dark, brooding and focused on our sinfulness.
But, in reality, as the inaugural day of Lent, it is all about love. Preparing ourselves
to celebrate Easter, we try to prepare ourselves spiritually. And of course the best
way prepare ourselves spiritually is to love more. One of my theology professors
used to say that for Jesus sin was primarily where people failed to bother to love.
So this Ash Wednesday maybe instead of thinking of “giving something up” we
can think of this most important question, which gets us to the heart of Lent:
“Where am I failing to bother to love?”

Rev. James Martin, SJ is a Jesuit Priest, Auburn Senior Fellow and best selling author and Editor-at-Large at America Magazine


The beautiful thing about the Christian  tradition is that love is its central message. The fact that Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day this year brings to us the beautiful collision of penance and the passion toward whom we restrain our intake by fasting. Our love for God and His love for us is worth our penance. Clearly, and undeservedly, we are apparently worth His passionate journey to the cross. True love is brilliantly displayed at this unique and coincidental intersection of penance and passion. 

— The Rev. Dr. David Anderson, Senior Pastor at Bridgeway Community Church


Every year around this season, I’ve often felt that Ash Wednesday is one of the most intimate times we have as pastors to interact with people in our congregations.  We stand face to face, inches apart really, as we look each in the eye and draw our deepest fears to the surface, as we entreat each to remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return.  Yet from that depth of humility, from that place of seeming hopelessness, we reach out with our thumbprint of ashes and place the brand, the reminder, of our God’s limitless love for each one of us individually, and God’s claiming us as God’s own, forever.  And that marks the start of Lent, our time in these 40 days before Easter, our pause button in the bustle of the year, to reflect on God’s assurance that evil will not prevail and that life does not end with death.  So maybe this year, this February 14th, this Ash Wednesday is our Valentine’s Day greeting of love from our most wonderful God!  And I’ll keep to myself my fears as to what I’ll come up with this year, with Easter falling on April Fool’s Day!

Rev. Mark Hostetter, Chair of Auburn Board and Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church, New York City.


What came to mind was the movie Love Story based on the wildly popular book back in the late 60’s, early 70’s. It was filmed, actually, outside my dorm window at the Radcliffe Quad when I was in college, now 45 years ago (yikes). The central phrase of that story was “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Ash Wednesday strikes me as offering a complete Yin to that Yang of what love is.   Love between me and Jesus is a constant return to “I’m sorry” and “You’re forgiven,” which is, for me the heart of Ash Wednesday.

— The Rev. Dr. Janet Edwards. Auburn Board Member and Pastor.


Our congregation-Middle Collegiate Church-has been reflecting all year on what it means to complete the dream, God’s dream, of a healed and whole world. On the way to Easter and our Revolutionary Love Conference the next weekend, we are claiming Love as the liberating force that will free all of us from racism, sexism, heterosexism and xenophobia. We are working with colleagues across the nation to build the Beloved Community inside the walls of our institutions, in the streets of America and yes, in virtual spaces around the globe. Love is our Lenten project; it is the destination of our journey and our guiding ethic.

— The Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, Auburn Senior Fellow, Senior Minister, Middle Collegiate Church


Not long ago, I had a melanoma removed. It was caught early, but just the same, the experience reminded me of my mortality, and that wake-up call intensified my love for what matters most in my life: my family, my faith, my friends, my colleagues, the most central elements of my life’s work. The coincidence of Ash Wednesday, Lent, and Valentine’s Day can similarly be a “mortality wake-up” to remind us all of what we love most … and so easily take for granted. I think of a friend of mine, a pastor, who recently came through an intense round of chemotherapy. Since then, his message has been reduced to two beautifully simple essentials: life is a gift and love is the point. It’s hard to improve on that.

— Rev. Brian McLaren, Auburn Senior Fellow, Best Selling Author and Pastor.

Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush is the senior vice president and editor of Voices

Do you have holidays that help you connect to the multifaith movement for justice? Let us know about your favorites on Twitter and Facebook

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