A Reflection on the Song of Songs
I want to reflect this evening on this passage from the Song of Songs, which I find so beautiful and sensuous in its language – celebrating young love.
The voice is that of a woman anticipating the arrival of her lover, who is leaping and bounding over the mountains and hills in his haste to reach her. He is a deer, a stag – he is at the window peering in. There is such a spirit of vitality and sexuality in the passage, and with their intimacy and connection Spring comes and the fields are in bloom. The world is filled with abundance and they are so part of the natural world, part of the goodness of God.
8 Listen! My beloved!
Look! Here he comes,
leaping across the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.’
When I stood in as a school chaplain at an all boys school a few years ago a visiting preacher asked for a reading from A Song of Songs – he was going to use it in his sermon. Everyone we asked to read, men or women turned down the opportunity. Are you crazy – the boys will start giggling from the start. – they would pick up all the sexual innuendo. The preacher had to change the reading.
But it is the one book in the Bible that celebrates relationships and sexuality – a subject on which the Bible and the church have such a poor history and one that has been painful for lovers of all sexual orientations as they have reached out to each other in love and intimacy – often leading to violence and abuse by individuals and communities against them.
There was much debate about including this book in the canon of scripture for it doesn’t mention God. However it came to be seen as expressing the relationship between Israel and God the Beloved, and later between the Church and God the Beloved.
This kind of language as a way of talking to God and experiencing God as the Beloved is picked up again in the Christian tradition by mystics like John of the Cross (16th century) and the 17th century poets like John Donne, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral. John Donne was thought to be a philanderer before he married the love of his life – he even went to prison for marrying her secretly. Here is part of his wonderful poem The Good Morrow. In the first verse the lovers find each other – so in love are they that everything before their meeting has been like a long sleep until that moment.
And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love, all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,
Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.
My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres,
Without sharp north, without declining west?
Whatever dies, was not mixed equally;
If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.
When his wife dies Donne turns more deeply to God to experience the more profound and difficult love of God the Beloved. That early exuberant love has been a preparation for something deeper. In one of his most famous love sonnets to the Beloved, he begins Batter my heart, three personed God.
In our love and intimacy with the significant and cherished people in our lives, we
learn and share in the wonder and beauty of intimacy.
We grow in our love for each other, for the Beloved.
We grow in our love for ourselves, our bodies, our minds, our spiritual being.
We grow in our love for the other who stands outside the boundary of our own love-circle – as we are commanded to do.
We may come to the place where the beloved is no longer a physical presence, but the Beloved’s hands, masculine and feminine as in the painting by Rembrandt, hold us, embracing us.
For is there not something deep that resonates in us in this short poem by Rumi:
“The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
They’re in each other all along.”
We celebrate Song of Songs – young love, and new love for and of the Beloved, God in Christ Jesus, that love which arises in us and invites us to come with me, into God’s new day.