Valentine’s Day (or Saint Valentine’s Day), which is observed on February 14th each year, began as a Church celebration of an early Roman-Christian martyr named, Valentinus. Legend has it that Valentinus of Rome was imprisoned for performing unsanctioned weddings for Roman soldiers — who were forbidden to marry — and for ministering to Christians, who were being persecuted – all in about 270 AD by Emperor Claudius Gothicus. During his imprisonment, Valentinus performed a miraculous healing of the daughter of his jailer, and before his execution, Valentinus wrote her a love letter with the salutation “from your Valentine.” Or so goes the legend.
It is thought that the first literary association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love came from Geoffrey Chaucer in his Parliament of Fools written in 1382: “For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.” – after all, it was the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. By the 1700s, lovers were expressing their love for each other with flowers, candy, and — yes — greeting cards, known appropriately, as “valentines.”
In the Biblical Songbook, I could quote the entire Song of Solomon as a biblical valentine, but to give a sense of the romantic tone of this book I turn to chapter 2, and read first from him, “Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the maidens,” and then from her, “Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest, is my lover among the young men and finally this, “Flowers appear on the earth, the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.”
Our church hymnals are sadly void of biblical love songs between a husband and a wife — perhaps they’re not good for congregational singing — but The Southern Harmony 1835 hymn “Come Away to the Skies” isn’t too bad for Valentine’s Day. It has verses such as this, “Come away to the skies, my beloved, arise, and rejoice in the day thou was born; on this festival day come exulting away. Now with singing and praise, let us spend all the days, by our heavenly father, bestowed. We with thanks do approve the design of that love, which hath joined us to Jesus’ dear name; to united in heart, let us never more part, till we meet at the feast of the Lamb.”
It is sad to observe that this beautiful hymn, written by Charles Wesley to his wife, Sally, is now sung largely by women. It ought to be sung by men, because it is a husband’s love song sung to his wife.
(“Come Away to the Skies” performed by Trinity Christian College Honors Ensemble)
Turning to the American Songbook, the choice for a Valentine’s Day love song is easy – it is the Rogers and Hart’s evergreen from their 1937 musical Babes in Arms – “My Funny Valentine.” The most famous of all Valentine Day songs in American popular music, and perhaps the most beloved of the boys’ ballads, the song is a most unconventional love song. The female singer admits the male’s looks are “laughable, unphotographable,” she says he is “dim-witted” and his “mouth a little weak when [he] opens it to speak” and his body is “less than Greek.” Still, she finds him enthralling and wants him to “stay” because “each day is Valentine’s Day.” How sweet.
The Rogers’ refrain on this beauty is a classic in conciseness, using only 6 notes, and Harts’ archaic lyrics are a paean of praise to physical plainness. Listen to Ella Fitzgerald sing this musical valentine to her special man:
(“My Funny Valentine” performed by Ella Fitzgerald)http://vimeo.com/14184401-
Solomon, Valentinus, Wesley, Rogers and Hart – they all spoke of love between and man and a woman in passionate terms. They spoke of how a man should woo and romance a woman and speak words of affection, if somewhat humorously, to his beloved. And the woman is to respond with a yearning for the man in her life.
We Christian men on this Valentine’s Day should pursue that special woman in our life with ardor, tenderness and commitment. Flowers, cards and candy are dandy, but tender words are grandy.
This is Bob Case for “Singing in the Shower: The American Songbook and the Church