On February 14, 1639, when John Winthrop was off in London arranging a charter for what would become Massachusetts, he added a postscript to his letter to his wife “Thou must be my valentine.” Valentine’s Day was not recognized in the short Puritan calendar of holidays, but every letter the couple wrote testified to their intensity of love.
Love is not the first word to come to mind when Puritanism comes up, but human sexual passion was much a part of their lives and metaphors. It was often evoked in their description of finding a right relation with the Divine: to “be ravished by God,” “penetrated with His joy,” or “awash in the Divine embrace.”
The Puritans are the American founding fathers—and mothers of course—of our church. I’ve admired them for their accomplishments, their decencies, their intensity, the strength and dignity they drew from beliefs far from mine. They believed that theirs was the only true faith. They believed God was not only love but also a Being of just anger who chose the few humans He wanted living with Him eternally. They believed all power of choice rested in God’s hands and not their own. Human tendency toward sin necessitated this. They pushed all toward the pathway of respectability that might lead to God’s grace, the only good goal.
I’ll write these memos on Puritanism to try to better understand, and to explain the good of their religious world so far back, and so far away from ours.
When I’d have students read some of the letters of John and Margaret Winthrop and think about what they suggested of the Puritan world, many good students would notice the closing phrases: John’s “loving” and “faithful” and “thine ever” husband and Margaret’s steady “obedient wife.” The best students noted the intensity of personal love that bound both of them within those differing roles.
In John’s last letter to her when leaving to cross the ocean to make their new home, he mentioned the agreement they’d made “to give some ease to us both.” Mondays and Fridays at five o’clock “they would both find a quiet place where “we shall meet in spirit till we meet in person.” True love conquers time zones, although “kiss and embrace” would have to wait.
May your Valentine’s Day be as loving as John and Margaret’s.
EVENTS & ANNOUNCEMENTS
Coffee Hour: Love and Chocolate, 2/16—After worship we’ll celebrate Valentine’s Day with chocolate sweets and love songs. If there’s a song you’d like to sing or play, please email email@example.com.
Poetry Hour, 2/16—Join us from 4-5 pm and bring one or two poems on any theme (with 8 copies to share). Friends are welcome! Questions? firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coffee Hour Conversation: Ward 3 Transitional Family Housing, 2/23— Come hear Jean Michel Giraud, Director of Friendship Place, tell us about their upcoming work with the new Ward 3 Transitional Family Housing Facility. He’ll answer questions about the location, potential families, services Friendship Place will provide, and ways our congregation might help.
Ash Wednesday Service, 2/26—We’ll gather at 6:30 pm at the front of the sanctuary for a short service about love and mortality. If you’ve never participated, consider joining us this year: it’s a truly meaningful way to begin the Lenten Season.
Lenten Retreat, 2/29—Join Pastor Ellen from 1-5 pm for a special “Leap Day” Lenten Retreat. We’ll celebrate this gift of time by taking time for contemplative prayer, relaxation, silence, and reflection. RSVP: email@example.com.