Lectionary Passage: Song of Solomon 2: 8-13
To read this passage online, go to http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Song+of+Songs+2:8-13&vnum=yes&version=nrsv
Do you love God? Sure you do! That’s the whole point, right? But here’s perhaps a harder (or at least a weirder) question: Are you in IN love with God? After all, being “in love” seems to be something so profoundly human, so earthy, so “fleshy”, so intimate, so private. It’s more than just loving. It’s more than just being together. It’s almost a completion of who you are called to be, an entirely different way of being. It really is more about being one than being two that love. We proper Western Protestants understand loving God (and, certainly, pleasing God). But do we let ourselves fall, with utter abandon, into love with God? The Old Testament passage from this week’s Lectionary selections is from the wisdom writing known in Hebrew as the Song of Songs. It’s not the usual fare for our lectionary. I mean, it borders on what is sometimes characterized as almost erotic imagery and it doesn’t even mention God. So, as you can imagine, there were lots of debates about whether or not it belonged in the canon at all. The matter was settled by Rabbi Akiba, the great teacher and mystic, who said this: “The whole world is not worth the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the Scriptures are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies? Wow! We’ll have to think about that one. I mean, really? We struggle with that, as if our relationship with God should be proper and acceptable, as if it should be reverent of the One in whom we live and breathe and have our being. So what is reverence? Is it standing away, removed from the One whom we revere? Or it is realizing that every molecule of our being desires to connect with God, longs to return to the One who created us. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s falling in love with God. Implicit in this poem is a sort of pining absence, a longing so deep that the poet cannot be complete without the One that is loved. I think that’s the way we’re called to be. I mean, think about it, we were created in the image of God, made with a shape and a sense into which only God fits. And we struggle. We struggle to find what fits into that shape. And in the absence, in the longing, we finally find that Presence of God, we finally find that One in whom we are destined to fall in love. Seventeenth century mathematician, Blaise Pascal spoke of it as a “God-shaped vacuum” in every human, a hole that only God could fill. It’s like being in love.
Like I said, this poem is not your usual reading from the Bible. There are no parables, no words of judgment, no promises of future and unrequited redemption. Rather, there is presence; there is reverence; there is a depiction of the most joyous and incredible love imaginable. It is flirtatious, and playful, and filled with utter joy. It is the very love of God. And the poet depicts it as transforming, a veritable spring at the end of winter, when life bursts forth from lifelessness and literally consumes death. (Sounds like resurrection to me!)
Perhaps it is the language that makes us bristle, that makes us squirm a bit in our pews. Perhaps we are even a bit uncomfortable with a God who is so intimate, so a part of us, that falling in love is all we can do. Perhaps we really haven’t thought through what it means to be created in the image of someone else. It means that we have to let ourselves go, that we have to become who God called us to be, that we have to realize that there is something more, that WE are something more, that we are created in the image of our Beloved, that we are created to fall in love with God. It is about completion; it is about wholeness; it is about being who we were created to be. It is about falling in love with God and falling into God.
Our lectionary probably doesn’t do us any favors because it doesn’t even allow us to finish the poem. The next four verses go like this:
O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely. Catch us the foxes, the little foxes, that ruin the vineyards— for our vineyards are in blossom.” My beloved is mine and I am his; he pastures his flock among the lilies. Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle or a young stag on the cleft mountains.
My beloved is mine and I am my beloved’s. That’s a whole lot different than an image of a seemingly-removed deity sitting up somewhere waiting for us to get our act together and catch up. And it flies in the face of us spending our earthly lives wallowing in chaos and muck, hoping against hope that we will finally rack up enough points to make it to heaven someday. Once again, it’s present tense. We are God’s and God, in a show of grace more amazing than we could ever sing, becomes ours. We are not just called to love and support and please God and try to figure out who or what God is; we are called to let ourselves go, to fall into love with God and fall into God with utter abandon and profound joy.