July 5, 2020 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
Song of Songs 4:1-7 (Inclusive Bible)
The Song of Songs is biblical poetry at its most lush. In this book, adoration for another is full of metaphors from nature–the voice is like the coo of a dove, the curve of the landscape is seen as the curve of the Body. Perhaps the hills and mountains are the curve of the Beloved Creator and our bodies are to be seen as the beautiful handiwork of the same Artisan of Life. In this passage for today, the culminating conclusion is that there is no flaw in the utter beauty of the subject of adoration. This does not mean that perfection is the goal, but that there is no flaw in imperfection. And the beauty of the one beheld is not dependent on the judgment of the beholder. Let us enter this Lectio Divina allowing judgment to suspend, to lift, to dissipate so that we might adore all things, even ourselves, as the “Dearest” to whom this letter is addressed.
Song of Songs 4: 1-7 (Inclusive Bible)
[Look at you—so beautiful, my dearest!
Look at you—so beautiful!] (a)
Look at your eyes, sweet as doves
behind the veil that your hair makes,
as it cascades from your head
like a flock of young goats—
black ones, bounding down off Mount Gilead.
And your teeth are sheep:
white as the day they were born,
or newly shorn, and freshly washed,
each with its perfect mate.
Not one of them is alone—
why should we be?
And, ah, the lips of that lovely mouth—
a ribbon of scarlet.
Your temples, behind that veil,
glow like the halves
of a freshly sliced pomegranate.
Your neck has the grace of David’s Tower,
with its jewels hung round it
like the shields of a thousand warriors.
And your breasts—like the twin fawns of a gazelle,
hiding among the lilies.
All my nights, till the sun
comes chasing its shadows,
let me play in these perfumed hills,
these mountains scented with myrrh.
[You are utterly beautiful, my dearest;
there’s not a single flaw in you.] (a)
“Song of Solomon,” that is the title that most people know for this little book in our Bibles. However, its name from the Hebrew is “Song of Songs…somehow connected with Solomon,” hard to translate that connection language. Song of Songs is such a strange little collection of poetry, tucked at the end of the Wisdom Literature in our Christian Bibles; Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. In these modern times, the relationship with Song of Songs has been awkward at best. What do we do with a collection of love poems filled with intimacy, desire, and a sensuality that borders on the sexual, and in which God is never mentioned by name? Is this a mistake? Did someone slip this in when no one was looking?
No, obviously not. Song of Songs has been a beloved part of the scriptural cannon for centuries and centuries and centuries. In fact, if we turn to our church foremothers and forefathers we will witness a very different relationship with the Song of Songs. Julian of Norwich, the 14th century Christian mystic who we have quoted a few times in our worship series, embraced deeply romantic language for God and Christ, especially when speaking of her relationship with Jesus. An early church father named Origen wrote in 266 CE, “…but much more blessed is the one who sings Song of Songs!” In the 11th century Bernard of Clairvaux was passionate about this book of love, “It is everywhere love that speaks! If anyone hopes to grasp the sense of what they read, let them love!” That is the heart of Song of Songs. This is not a book of scripture that is to be studied and scrutinized, understood and intellectualized. As Bernard said, to grasp the essence of this book you must love. Song of Songs is to be felt, dwelt with, experienced, lived.
Part of the nature of this little book is revealed in its very name—Song of Songs. Hebrew likes that turn of phrase—“Song of Song…Lord of Lords…King of Kings…Holy of Holies.” God and Jesus are both referenced repeatedly in scripture as the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Though we understand today how problematic lord and king language is, the essence of this declaration is that our God is the God of Gods—the godliest God, the ultimate God, God over all. In the holy temple in Jerusalem, there was a small inner sanctum that was believed to quite literally be the earthly dwelling place of God’s presence. This sanctum was only entered by a trained few and was the highest honor. This was the Holy of Holies, a title declaring that space as the holiest of all holy places. No one can fully comprehend the godliest God, the God of all. The holiness of the holiest holy is wrapped in mystery. We are called to savor the wonder of this God. We are called to dwell in gratitude within such holiness. Our scripture reading to day comes from the Song of Songs, the ultimate Song, the Song that lifts us into the presence of this God, this Holiness.
Our reading today from this ultimate Song is a tribute to love and beauty. Julian, Origen and Bernard saw in this romantic and passionate words shared between two lovers, the wild and intimate relationship between God and God’s people, between Jesus and his followers. In this song to beauty in chapter four, God…Jesus gazes upon the community of people and is literally beguiled, enchanted by beauty. Song of Songs invites us and all of God’s people to experience this Song as if we are (and we are) the dearest to whom the poem is addressed.
“Look at you!” Our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer cries.
“Look at you…so beautiful, dearest…beloved!
Just look at the wonder of you…your eyes, your teeth, your lips, your face…You!!
You are utterly beautiful, my dearest. You are flawless!
You are a wondrous creation. You are a masterpiece!”
What if we sang that to ourselves when we first rise in the morning, and then again at noon when we take a break to eat, and one more time as we prepare to go to sleep at night? What if we experienced and dwelt with the all-encompassing love of God that saturates the Song of Songs as a daily time of prayer and contemplation? How might it change how we see ourselves, one another, and the world?
Song of Songs, and specifically our reading today, invites us to let go of seeking to understand, to discern a purpose, to qualify and quantify. It asks us to let go of control, and try to know the when, where, what, how, and especially, why. The Song calls us to experience God’s love for us as a love as intimate and passionate and desiring and wild as that of two lovers. It calls us to bathe in a love that marvels at every single part of you, and that begs you to perceive yourself as God sees you. And having spent time seeing yourself through God’s eyes, to turn your gaze outward and see the world through God’s eyes, see each piece of creation as God’s sees it…Miracle!
Perhaps through this Vision of Visions, this Perception of Perceptions, we too will see the utter beauty in those doves in our poem today, or that flock of young goats bounding down the mountain, or those newly shorn and freshly washed sheep. And we will be able to hear the awe in God’s voice as God holds our beauty alongside the mystery and glory of all that God created and called good…Tov! With our lives centered around the Vision of Visions, we automatically see the beauty and wonder of all creation around us, of all God’s phenomenal creatures, of every human being in all their wondrous uniqueness. When we see all people as beautiful and designed by God, we cannot turn away from any suffering, any pain, any injustice, any thing that seeks to inflict hard on one of God’s dearest, one of God’s beloveds.
This weekend we celebrate the establishment of our nation. Hopefully, we are giving thanks for the vision of our founding parents, the vision of a nation were we strive for a time when it is evident to ALL that ALL people are created equal. We give thanks for a vision of a nation that pursues community where EVERYONE has life, liberty and happiness as our Creator intended. It is a beautiful vision, a piece of the Vision of Visions, a lovely goal. But, with our Perception of Perceptions, even as we wonder at the beauty of the hope-filled declaration of our beginning, we are also able to see where we fall short. We clearly see where we have failed, where we have much work to do. We do not turn away from the places where God’s dearest are not treated as equal, not given full life and liberty, where suffering and pain and injustice push out happiness. I pray that as we do indeed celebrate freedom, we also mark with intentionality that not all Americans see July 4th as their Independence Day. Some mark June 19th as the date when slavery ended in our nation, at least on paper. Some are still waiting for that freedom in many ways. Some, who were here much, much earlier that 1776, struggle still today, living on reservations, plagued by poverty and injustice, ravaged by COVID-19. These are God’s dearest too, God’s beloved—beautifully and wondrously made.
Oh, much more blessed is the one who sings the Song of Songs! It IS everywhere LOVE that speaks! To grasp its essence, you must love!
Look at you…so beautiful! Look at the wonder of you! You are utterly beautiful, God’ dearest and beloved. I am utterly beautiful, God’s dearest and beloved. We are utterly beautiful, beloved community. Make time this week to contemplate the beauty and wonder of you, and to savor the beauty and wonder of all God made. Walk humbly with God so that you are nourished to do justice and to love mercy. Thanks be to God. Amen.