“A Love Song”
September 2, 2018 – 15th Sunday after September – Year B
This is the only week where we dip into the Song of Solomon. So, I certainly don’t want to miss my chance at exploring what this text has to say to us.
This exquisite poem from the Song of Solomon, also called the Song of Songs, is part of that miscellaneous collection simply called “The Writings.” It was the custom to read it on the 8th day of Passover, but it is also believed to be a collection of Judean wedding songs and continues to be read at weddings today. Others treat the poems as an allegory, the bridegroom being God, and the bride being the people of Israel. Another interpretation is that the Song is a collection of liturgies connected to spring festivals. Whatever the interpretation (and the other lessons read with it will likely have their influence) there is no denying its lyrical beauty. The arrival of the loved one, initially, is heard rather than seen. As he stands at the window drinking in the beauty of the springtime, he turns and calls his love to come and share this precious moment. The poems in the Songs of Songs celebrate the mutual love of a Lover and Beloved, now meeting, now parting, seeking, and finding each other. It celebrates life’s rhythms in the harmony of the universe.
The story is told of a person who runs a marina on the eastern end of Long Island. Every year he knows when spring is coming, even without a calendar. You see, the winter may be unpredictable and the workload may rise and fall, but he knows when it is March 23rd.
Every year on March 23rd, 2 osprey return from the Caribbean and build their nest on top of the same telephone pole. March 23rd – every year. Such are the rhythms of life!
The Song of Songs is, for many, particularly disquieting. For one thing, it doesn’t mention God at all. For another, it is frankly erotic.
Treating this book, let alone this passage, as an allegory for an ecstatic relationship with God reveals our discomfort with sexuality and eroticism. This is about passion – not the passion of Christ, but the passion of early love.
When we reduce these verses to a distant, abstract, spirituality, we embalm them. Infatuation courses through the veins of the Song of Songs. It rages out of control – and perhaps that’s what makes us so uneasy about this book. It invites us to abandon ourselves to love. But we have an enormous fear of losing control. Even our faith needs to the rational, reasoned, logical.
Many of Jesus’ teachings deal with paradox, not logic. Maybe we need to take a hint from the Song of Songs and fling ourselves into “the everlasting arms” with complete abandon.
A number of years ago a United Church congregation was invited to a Seder at the local synagogue. As part of the benediction, Rabbi Morris turned to the group and said, “Sabbat Shalom. We Jews have a custom which we hope you share with us. We hope you will return to your homes and celebrate Shabbat as we do, by re-consummating your marriages in the joy which God intends.”
Afterward, the United Church Minister told Rabbi Morris one would not likely hear that from a Christian pulpit. His comment was, “Yeah, Augustine really did a number on you guys. Healthy sexuality with our marriage partner was, after all, God’s second commandment.”
The unabashed and unashamed enjoyment of the physical and erotic side of relationships is beautiful. The split between body and spirit did us no favors. The idea of a disembodied spirit would have been unthinkable to an Israelite. As people, we are a unity – body and spirit. For example, the harm done to the spirit by an extreme, unbridled sexuality is only too well documented. And when sexuality is denied and repressed, all sorts of psychological and spiritual aberrations occur.
Beautiful Eros love that is described in this lovely poem is that love of mutuality between lovers. It is joy-filled, exciting, and tender. The delight is evident from the first line to the last of our scripture text. Both partners are filled with passion and anticipation. It is not the agape love – that love for everyone, nor the philia love between friends. This passage describes erotic love that is toe tingling, and other parts too, and full of anticipation.
For those who have known abuse, rejection, and hurt, this passage is the opposite of your experience. There is nothing tender, delightful, or full of mutuality in abuse. It is neither agape or philia love. Abuse is power over and controlling.
Now, back to Song of Songs. This lovely passage describes a spring time courtship. There is a newness and delight in the call between the two lovers. To be in love is to live beyond the boundaries of the self and to enter a realm of sheer delight, in which the human and the divine can merge. Oh – God does so love it when we are fully in love. J.C. Powys says: “Love … is always in the mood of believing in miracles.” What greater miracle is there then when 2 unique and oh so different individuals come together and find bliss.
In our text of today we encounter the heart as the seat of passion, the centre of understanding, and the locus for transformation. It gives more than 1 way of viewing the heart. The 2 lovers remind us that all action -or inaction – is a sign of the heart’s intent. Sometimes the challenge is to renew the heart’s understanding. Sometimes it is to live what the heart knows to be true.
While I was finishing my undergraduate degree, I had the privilege of working as a teaching assistant for the Human Sexuality course. Several people were astonished that a Student Minister could be teaching such a course. Especially one whose marriage had just ended. I had a great experience teaching and facilitating sessional groups. The conversations were deep and often amazingly personal. The students were willing to delve deeply into their hearts to explore the fullness of understanding themselves as sexual beings. I appreciated the opportunity of lecturing on the faith perspective of human sexuality. Today’s scripture never failed to astound the students.
Perhaps you are wondering why this text is in our Bible. You are not alone in wondering this. My hunch is that it offers a fuller understanding of God’s delight with humanity. I encourage you to take out your Bibles and read the entire book of Song of Solomon. It is only 8 short chapters long. You will find it after Psalms and before Isaiah.
So, what are you to take home with you from today’s service? If you are partnered, I hope you will continue to know and express great eros love together. For all of us, may we live out agape and philia love. May love be deep in all our hearts. Amen.