The Archer’s Mark
Throughout many of this nation’s streets, and certainly in its bars, the celebration of Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday to those who skipped out of French class, will herald the arrival this week of…Valentine’s Day? That’s right, that amorphous holiday purporting to celebrate romantic love by venerating saints executed in a Roman pagan ritual will once again be upon us. And with it comes all that we have come to expect and even accept: rushed reservations for price fixed menus, cards written by someone else at a greeting card company, and of course, candy hearts…well, the candy hearts aren’t all bad.
Many of us know that what Mardi Gras actually heralds is the onset of the Lenten season observed by many members of our human family around the world on Ash Wednesday, when many wear ashes on their brow for the day. The tradition of imposing ashes is an old one, much older than Christianity itself. Members of the Jewish faith would put ashes on their head as a sign of mourning. The last feast before a season of repentance, the onset of a holy time of introspection, and the yearly occurrence of a holiday shrouded in mystery yet seemingly omnipresent in our culture all coming together in one short period of time: what could go wrong?
One of the themes that comes strongly through the more secular celebration of Mardi Gras and the more holy celebration of Ash Wednesday is the theme of, well, sin. Some would say that on Mardi Gras, you indulge the excesses you’ll later repent for indulging. And for some, this kind of indulgence is a sin to repent for. And it is on Valentine’s Day that the image of Cupid (a Roman god, Eros in Greek mythology) takes aim with his bow and heart-tipped arrows at the hearts of the lovers of the world.
Enough of us, I am certain, have known the effect of Cupid’s errant or poorly spent arrows in lives. Broken, lost, and disordered love is a painful truth of many of the hardest struggles in life. Sometimes he misses the mark, but he’s not alone. As it turns out, the very meaning of the verb “to sin” is translated as “to miss the mark.”
This messy collision of holidays this year is delightful. Holding in the span of a few hours the ways that gods and humans both miss the mark is a rare experience. The faults we bear, the faltering we endure, and the falls that lay us flat on our backs reveal at this time this truth: to err is human…but it’s also divine. For on this day of hearts and ashes, we know this simple truth: those who make their reservations, exchange their cards, and hold their sweethearts close will also hold in their mind some of the ways they may have missed the mark with their loved ones at times. So the miracle we celebrate today might not be the ways we have faltered. Today we celebrate those who pick us up so we can try again.
Blessings to you all this day!