I wrote this reflection on St Valentine’s Day, thinking about the difficulty many Evangelical Christians have with the basic idea that we can enjoy life—even romantic love!
I have a resistance to the kind of commercialization we see on St Valentine’s Day.
But also, in my formation, there was a strong resistance to pleasures, to physical enjoyment.
I remember the wife of an older minister, with whom we were out to
dinner, once telling the people at the next table that we Christians
did not drink alcohol because we had Jesus! But she seemed to order a lot of lemon, lime and bitters.
Recently I found this wonderful paragraph from George O’Brien, about
his formation in a church school: ‘There were moments in my education
from the Irish Christian Brothers when I had the distinct impression
that the entire point of the creation of the sun, the moon, the stars,
the journeys of the patriarchs, the flight into Egypt, the proclamation
of the prophets, the New Testament, and the pageant of the Popes was to
stamp out smooching. Never has so much earnestness been devoted to so
little effect.’ (God and New Haven Railway, pp82-83).)
What is it about our spirituality that has made us so uneasy with
enjoyment, and especially with the physical enjoyment of being
I’ve done a lot of work on this, over many years, both in a personal
and in a theological sense, and I want to suggest that one crucial
element has to do with our Christology: that is, our understanding of
The Christian faith makes the truly astonishing claim that God, the
creator of the universe, the lord of all time and history, actually
can, did and does appear as one of us: a real live, flesh and blood
human being. A creature.
Consider the Gospel text: John 1. 14: ‘and the Word became flesh and
lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory s of a father’s
only son, full of grace and truth’.
This very famous text fits within a chapter which sets out ‘the Word’,
which was a major philosophical idea of the eternal source and meaning
of the universe, the rational power or meaning of all things.
This Word is here called Jesus: it comes as flesh.
It’s a well chosen word.
Many of us who have grown up in church circles have almost no hope of
understanding what John is saying, because of the way people
understand, or misunderstand, the Apostle Paul and what he has to say
There are different meanings of this word, some of them a bit
disparaging of human, physical life. But not many of the biblical uses
of the word actually mean that: it’s something we read into it,
thinking that spiritual life is opposed to physical life.
When the bible says ‘all flesh’, it usually means human life, embodied
and living, breathing … breathing what? The creation stories say:
breathing the breath of God. God breathed us into life. This, our
breath, is a living, every moment sign that we are God-creatures. We
live and breathe as God-creature, dependent on God, as the Psalmist
So to be flesh is to live as an embodied person, dependent on God.
The Word became flesh: visible, human, embodied and yet truly God’s son, full of grace and truth.
St Valentine’s Day is a challenge: to live embodied lives, yes, loving
someone special perhaps, but more generally too, to overcome the false
separation of embodiment and spirit, as God does.
There is an invitation here: to a much fuller and more real life.
And because we are embodied, we live in relationship and actually learn this kind of deeper life with and from each other.