Many of us who are married or in a committed relationship look to Valentine’s Day as a special time once a year to profess our love, our closeness, the intimacy that we share with that significant other in our lives.
That relationship is different from loving relationships with parents, siblings, other family members and friends.
But what about our relationship with God? Do we really love God? How can we describe that love? Scary, confusing questions put us face-to-face with how we understand our connection with and the presence of God our lives, and how we understand ourselves.
Franciscan Daniel P. Horan, OFM, helps us wrestle with these issues, drawing on St. Francis’ spirituality, in the newly released Dating God: Live and Love in the Way of St. Francis.
In an interview I did with the friar in the Franciscan Media offices last month, Brother Dan, who has taught at Siena College, has led retreats with young adults and who writes for the blog “Dating God: Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century,” stressed that the desire, the uncertainty, the passion and time set aside with those most important to us should resemble our relationship with God.
“One of the things that I want to stress from the book,” he says, “is that we become so focused on our relationship with God as different from that of other people, whether it’s our spouse, our friends, our co-workers.
“But,” Dan says, “our relationship with God is a human relationship like it is with anything else.”
He pointed to different images people use to understand their relationship with God: parent, brother, guide on a journey or, as some Christian mystics have suggested, lover. But he stressed that any image we use for God, who is so different from us, “will be helpful for some people and not for others.”
But while many Christians speak about loving God, oftentimes that love seems devoid of connection, of real relation to our lives, of intimacy, of the impossibility of anything but difference between us and the divine.
The image of dating for Brother Dan is one way to break through that. “This will allow somebody to think about God as somebody we can relate to, not unlike somebody we are dating.
“And in good relationships, dating relationships, when you’re getting to know somebody, we’re very excited and energetic about that,” he says. “The same is true about God.”
But it becomes “unnerving … to pause and think about somebody who knows all of the deep, dark secrets of our hearts and at the same time knows the joys of our lives.
“So what this book I hope does,” he says, “is get people to a good glimpse of what Francis and Clare of Assisi and their followers offer us in way of inspiration, wisdom and insight in helping us to understand our relationship to God in a contemporary way in the 21st century.”
What a special Valentine’s Day gift for us and our beloved – to enter into a fuller, a closer relationship with the source of all life and hope.
Photo of the beach by arztsamui; photo of Brother Daniel Horan, O.F.M., by Mark Lombard.