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Posts Tagged ‘Song of Solomon’

The sermon I preached from Song of Solomon 2:8 and following this morning. Because several folks have asked..

I’m betting we’ve all had the experience of stumbling on a young couple, who are OBVIOUSLY very much in love.

I probably really don’t need to describe it,but here goes anyway: They’re in some public place, and they are sitting so close that there’s not even any room for the Holy Spirit (And if we’re lucky, all they are doing is sitting close)
If we’re unlucky, they are smooching or gazing stupidly into one another’s eyes. They have stars in their eyes, and butterflies in their stomachs. In short, they could not possibly be any more disgusting if they tried!

But perhaps we’re so disgusted because we tell ourselves that couple is just being silly– CLEARLY they are just “teenagers”, who clearly don’t even know what love is. All they have to go by is what they see on the movies.

But the rest of us, who have been married know that that’s not the shape of love at all: “Real” love is a much more grounded, bill-paying, raising-the-kids, worrying-about-the-leaky-roof sort of thing. Staring stupidly in to each other’s eyes doesn’t pay the bills, get the kids raised well, or help the suddenly leaking roof.

When we see these “lovebirds” We roll our eyes, and make loud disgruntled noises– hoping that they’ll catch a hint . But they won’t– because they are so wrapped up in each other that they see nothing else. They are unapologetic about it. So we walk away, disparing of “teenagers today”.

In some ways, I feel just like I do when I see some smooching kids when I come to this text from the Bible: Awkward and Disgruntled. And waiting for an apology for such socially unacceptable behavior.

But I read through the entire book, and I found no such thing. No apology.
No embarrassed giggles that arise from being discovered. Not even a hint that the “lover” and “beloved” even notice that I’m watching them.

And to make matters worse, God doesn’t even show up in the book– at least not mentioned by name.

I wonder how this collection of poems, which doesn’t mention God, and doesn’t have a plot, even made it into our Bible. So now you’re not only wondering why it’s in the Bible, but why the lectionary people chose it, and not only that, but why in the world your preacher would choose to preach it when there are other marvelous “useful” passages for the week, like about the Pharisees calling the disciples dirty because they wouldn’t wash their hands, or even the passage from James that insists hearing the word isn’t enough.

Why would I do such a thing? Good question.

I have a firm and certain belief that the things in the Bible were intended to be helpful to us– and sometimes I love a good challenge, so I like to dig around to find their purpose. I feel like an archeologist some days.

As I did some reading for this one– I wasn’t really prepared for what I found. I had more or less believed that the Song of Songs was an allegory for Christ’s love for us– after all, in a couple of places, we hear mention of Christ as the Bridegroom. In Hosea, we know that God sets hosea up with a prostitute and it’s a metaphor for the unfaithfulness of Gods people, and how God loves them inspite of all of that. It made perfect sense that this raw poetry might also function in the same way.

But… every commentary I read says that to interpret this book only in that way is robbing the book of something. That unmade my day in a hurry– after all, if it wasn’t an allegory… well, then that meant that it was about exactly what it sounds like its about: a celebration of a man and woman’s love for each other, about the blossoming of a love that is rich, and deep, and uncontainable, about a passion that was spilling out all over the pages, and quite simply making a mess.

But here is what I think is really useful about that: Human love can at best be a glimpse of God’s love, but we humans are so limited, and have such a small range of understanding that we can’t even begin to grasp what God’s love must look like. To even start, we have a great tendancy to impose what we know of the world upon God. It’s not the best plan, because God is so infinitely more amazing than we can know and to impose what we know of the world is really to cheat God. But… we’re going to do it anyway, and we might as well have a beautiful image of human love to even begin to grasp what God’s love looks like.

What better way to imagine God’s love for us than to think about a couple who is so fully in love with each other that it’s all they know? I’d sure rather think about that, than I would, say, about Edith and Archie Bunker who never seemed to be on the same page.

It’s a lot more stirring to think of our relationship with God as a couple who quite simply can’t get enough of each other, than it is to think about our relationship with God as “Is it your turn to scoop the litterbox, or mine?”

Even if having a beautiful picture of human love was the only reason to have put this book in the Bible, I’m all for it. We live in a cultural filled with sex– but we don’t know really what to do with love.

But I don’t think that is the only reason. I think this whole book both speaks powerfully to the transformative quality of love, and paints a glorious picture of what God’s love really looks like for us.

Imagine back to the days when you were “stupidly in love”. We live in a culture where we choose the one to marry, instead of a place where it is chosen for us, all of us that have been married have surely experienced this feeling: that feeling of sheer enchantment; of waking with your beloved on your mind, and of going to sleep waiting for the morning so that you could spend another day growing more in love.

Think back to the magical time before the day-to-day stuff intruded.

Do you remember what YOU were like?

When Donovan and I were dating, I felt like the most beautiful thing in the world. I had the perpetual feeling that birds were singing all around me, and I don’t remember ever seeing a cloudy day. I believed that I could do anything that I put my mind to, so long as my beloved was proud and supportive of me.

I think that magical time was the time in my life when I was the nicest person. Somebody could pay for a cart full of groceries in all pennies, or steal the parking place I had my eye on, and it wouldn’t have ruffled my feathers a bit.

To be beloved really changes things. To live in that short, though magical time, where the only thing that matters is being worthy of your beloved’s heart is to dance one of the most amazing dances of intimacy.

To be in love is to find your whole being tied up in that other person.

Being Beloved changes things:
I remember when I was in high school, I took this class called “Bible as Literature”– and I remember discussing Song of Solomon.
The teacher said that evidence said that it was likely that the lover and beloved that we meet in these poems were probably not physically beautiful–at least not in a way that we would typically think of as beautiful. After all, they were outside all day. Their skin and hair would have been very rough.

But when they gazed stupidly into each other’s eyes, they could see nothing but beauty in the other. And not even the “oh, she’s a beautiful person inside” sort of way. When they gazed stupidly into each other’s eyes, they were flooded with energy and hormones, because the person standing in front of them was the most beautiful creature they had ever seen. And so beautiful that they had to sing about it.

Can you imagine being the recipient of so much love? Can you imagine how that would change your world view?

The fact that it feels like a cheesy preacher move isn’t enough to keep me from saying it. The way that these lovers feel about each other is the way that God feels about us.

That’s a tough thing for me to say. I don’t think I much care to think about God in the words that these lovers use for each other. The words that we find in this passage are sensual, no doubt. But they’re not just about a physical love-they’re as much about a soul love as they are about anything else.

But still, I don’t think most of us are quite comfortable thinking about our relationship with God in this way.

Then again, we live in a somewhat puritanical society. That’s odd, because like I mentioned before, our world is filled with sex. Even toothpaste adds– I mean, c’mon! But the truth is is that we’re uncomfortable with people having these sorts of emotions.

And that someone would suggest that God’s love for us is like what we find in Song of Songs is shocking!!

Some of the ancient Greeks thought that folks were getting too emotional, and they started a movement called “Stoicism”– which praised ideals that were logical. To be a person of passion was highly frowned upon.

In some ways, that’s carried over. In our own Westminster Confession of Faith, we are told that God is “without body parts or passions.” The body parts thing I get–that refutes that God is a person just like us.
But without “passion”– I don’t think that’s true at all! The scriptures are filled with stories of God’s passion for his creation. Rare are the stories of God’s sitting up on a cloud with divine indifference!

I don’t think most of us think of God as “without passions”. So why in the world would we believe that God wants the relationship between each of us and God to be without passion?

What we see in this passage is a terrifically intimate dance between the creator and the created. The fact that God isn’t mentioned by name doesn’t change that. The writer and audience of this would have supposed that God’s hand was in it. They would have supposed that all of this was a gift from God.

And here’s a really interesting thought that I came across as I was studying: The poems gathered in this book are a parallel (though moving in positively opposite directions) to what we find in Genesis. In Genesis, we’re learning what the world looks like after the fall–Separation of people from each other, separation of those people from God. In Song of Songs, we see what it can be like to dance with God. Though the process won’t be complete until Christ comes again, we can always be moving toward such a divine, intimate dance.

God loves each of us positively. And even positively intimately. It’s shocking!

But I get the feeling that God doesn’t mind shocking us out of our drudgery and puritanical ways. God doesn’t mind shocking us with his overflowing, passionate, love.

God loves each of us as if we were the only ones in the world. Deeply and fully, and in a way that we’ll never be able to really get.

Sometimes, when I get really busy, Donovan will take me away from whatever mundane task that’s sucking away my energy and he’ll say, “Pretend I’m the only thing that matters. Pretend that you have nothing else to worry about besides spending time with me.”

I think God must say that too.

In the Song of Songs, God says, “Arise my love. Come away with me.”
”Come away from your passionless, puritanical selves.”
”Come away from the things that rob you of your joy.”
“Come away from your notion of our relationship.”
“Come away from seeing me as distant and uncaring.”

Come dance with me. Dance joyfully, passionately. Look into my eyes, and see only me.

Amen.

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