It happens every so often: Ash Wednesday occurring on Valentine’s Day, as it does this year. But whenever it does, it accentuates the great affirmation that there is no greater love, a love that calls us to endurance.
Before I get into this timely topic, however, I’d like to share the response I received to our Jan. 25 column on Annette Stanwick’s experience with endurance, from one of our Ahmadiyya Muslim coffee companions. Kalim Ahmed wrote:
THANKS FOR SHARING the Inspiring story of Annette Stanwick. Her life story of endurance and resilience beautifully echoes the teachings of Islam, which emphasizes the profound nature of steadfastness and the strength derived from enduring trials. Steadfastness is more than a miracle. It is a transformative force that enables individuals to face extreme circumstances with courage, faith, and an unwavering commitment to God's will.
Her ability to find strength in the face of adversity demonstrates that true endurance is not just about surviving challenges but thriving in extreme circumstances.
Annette's journey, marked by resilience, testifies that adversity serves as a great teacher, providing opportunities for self-discovery, understanding others, and strengthening one's connection with God. Her story is an inspiring example of steadfastness and endurance, turning trials into opportunities for growth, and finding strength in the face of challenges.
THANK YOU, KALIM. Yes, as you say, endurance is very much about “finding strength in the face of challenges.”
Interestingly, that’s very much how I understand a key teaching about Jesus, as stated in the New Testament book of Hebrews, 12:2-3 NRSV: “…looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself … so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.”
These words were originally written to believers who were experiencing persecution for their faith. Yes, as Jesus had earlier told his disciples (John 15:15): “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
What a great theme to contemplate this Lent, the 40-weekday period within Christianity that begins on Ash Wednesday and leads up to Good Friday and Easter.
Traditionally, many Christian congregations gather on this annual day of reflection to receive the sign of the cross smudged on their foreheads with ashes, a reminder of their mortality, that they are dust and to dust they shall return.
But occurring on Valentine’s Day, as it does this year, is also a special reminder that we mortals are the object of the greatest love – a love in which we are embraced in the heart of God.
And what kind of lifestyle does this call us to? Certainly not the self-serving shrewdness, narcissism, greed and bullying that underlies so much of public life today, but a lifestyle of loving others as we are loved, a love that calls us to endurance in the spirit of Jesus’ endurance.
I’ll conclude with lines from Fernando Ortega’s moving hymn:
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!…
What wondrous love is this
that caused the Lord of bliss…
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.
© 2024 Warren Harbeck