The Stuff of Troubadours
Holy Week, Eastertide
More than once I've been referred to as a modern-day troubadour. I've always liked this designation because it has a romantic, archaic ring to it that sounds just a little bit more intriguing than mere singer/songwriter. But it once occurred to me that I wasn't entirely sure of its meaning, and I thought I should look it up.
Not surprisingly, I discovered the word to have various historical uses and nuances. But the definition that intrigued me most, and which I recognize as fairly accurate of my own sense of calling and vocation is this:
a lyric poet sent by one (usually of the King's court)
with a message of chaste love to another.
Well... there you go. A few years ago (on Valentine’s Day) I posted a song and message of chaste love in a blog. In it, I celebrated thirty years of marriage to my wife Nanci—a union that has resulted in three beloved (now adult) children, their own unions to beloved others, two grandchildren, and a deeply meaningful, long-term foster relationship with a young woman and her beautiful children.
Although not every chaste union strives to produce offspring, Fr. Gabrielle of St. Magdalen, in his meditative devotional Divine Intimacy, teaches that the highest glory of the chaste union is in its potential to become a willing "collaborator with God in the transmission of life." That is: a relationship that is materially fecund, suggesting a dark loamy richness capable of concealing and safeguarding a vulnerable seed, and providing a nutrient-rich soil from which it can spring to its own leafy uniqueness. It's a lovely image.
Ironically, what struck me recently is that Valentine’s Day is celebrated at the very onset of the season of Lent. And Lent, in contradistinction to Valentine’s, is essentially a season where the Christian "faithful" penitently consider the devastating disaster that is infidelity—particularly infidelity to God, and by extension to all that God is in faithful relationship with.
One of the scriptural texts the Church reflects on during Lent is the Old Testament book of Hosea, in which the author imaginatively portrays God as despair-raged lover whose beloved has been unfaithful with "declarations of love that last no longer than morning mist and predawn dew" (6:4). If you read the text as a propositional description of God, it can be a rather disturbing image as God keens agonizingly one minute, and rages menacingly the next. It is almost a frightening glimpse of someone who, in his frantic desperation, maniacally flops between desperate pleading on one hand, and threatening violence on the other.
But for those concerned with the violence of God apparent in Old Testament Scriptures, please note how the story goes. Admittedly, the text allows for painful rage, resulting from betrayal, to be voiced. In short, the text is comfortable with the truth: "I'll charge like a lion, like a leopard stalking in the brush. I'll jump like a sow grizzly robbed of her cubs..." (13:7-8). But in the end, God cannot wield the vengeance he threatens. God eventually spends his rage and collapses in exhaustion back into his covenant character, admitting almost with a sheepish sigh:
"I will love... lavishly. My anger is played out." (14:4)
As we leave Lent and enter into the 50 days of Eastertide—all pointing to Trinity Sunday, the celebration of God’s loving com-unity—we would do well to consider deeply the content of this “lavish love” which, according to John’s gospel, gave itself for the “ton kosmon”—the whole cosmos—as a saving antidote to the devastating infidelity of we, her chief stewards. The entire Lent-Holy Week-Easter sequence is truly an epic love story flanked elegantly by Valentine’s Day and Trinity Sunday. And this is the stuff of troubadours.
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