I imagine that I am not unlike a lot of other people who when they first heard someone discussing the Song of Solomon tilted their heads a bit and wondered what it could mean that such words would be buried between recitations of lineages and recountings of defeats and stories of miraculous healings.
I was something of a child at the time that I first heard this book talked about. And I will admit that over the years, I’ve left that book pretty much buried where it is, and let Isaiah do the talking.
Because, for me, for most of my life, scripture has been my code. When I have been working a vision, I will listen for scripture read aloud, or comb my daily readings to see if there is any language that conforms with my vision. Confirmation. For me, if there isn’t scriptural confirmation of a concept, then there isn’t any accuracy in the vision.
And, let’s face it, the Song of Solomon doesn’t come wafting over the heads of the congregants very often. Well, fine then, if ever.
And it really doesn’t show up in my assignments for daily scripture reading.
It’s there when I read through the Bible (with read very much in quotations marks, because I either think about something else during that time, or have the experience that the words in front of me are really a jumbled mess that needs to be sorted out or solved; and I am doing much better with this by listening to Bible on tape). It’s there. And listening to this book is somewhat shocking with, LET HIM KISS ME starting it all off.
Fine, let him kiss you. What’s it to me? Where’s Job, anyway? Or someone else who has something interesting to say?
But as I listened to its words, read over these same words, and filtered out concepts from commentaries, I realized that it isn’t just the seeming oddness of its subject matter that strikes me, it’s also the seeming flat-out incomprehension people who think about Bible have about it.
If the book is about love, well, duh, and if we think that this book is in the Bible to teach us about God’s love, again with the well, duh, then, it appears that the two main characters (the girl, or beloved, and the boy, the lover) are God and the church, or Jesus and the church, or if someone manages to think that this must be about God’s love for Man (WELL, DUH), then God is the boy and Man is the girl. If you get my drift.
(I would love to take a moment to rant about the meaninglessness of concepts such as marriage with a church, and wearing wedding rings to symbolize marriage to God, the Father, or God, the Son, when really these rings just symbolize a person’s intention never to marry, which strikes me as a open-handed slap to the sacrament of marriage, but I won’t. Instead I will be good and get on with whatever it is I am getting on with.)
But really, when I listened to the undercurrents of this book with possibly the most powerfully evocative language in the Bible, I found that the reality of the symbolism is quite the opposite: God is the beloved (the female), and Man is the boy (the lover).
First of all, the character of the girl (henceforth referred to as, beloved, because putting the words, God, and, girl, in the same sentence would probably result in my giggling) is a much more dominant character in the story. The bulk of the words are hers.
Which isn’t saying much. In life, our perception of our relationship with God probably focuses mostly on us, not him, but nonetheless, if we are looking at the story of God’s love for Man, then we need to put God in the dominant position. It’s his love we are interested in. That’s what we don’t understand, after all.
And it is through the Beloved’s words that absolute commitment to the Lover is expressed. It is she who speaks of her deep and complicated emotions.
She is also the one who expresses her sense of belonging three times: I am my beloved’s and my beloved in mine. She is the one who calls out and defines the relationship.
And it is in the speaking of her deep love and earnest longing that she explains how she wants to be in union with her lover.
This is the Beloved’s role. The active role.
She is the one with the words, and creates with them. Just as words in the Bible become flesh and thus the absolute revelation of the creator, the Beloved in the Song of Solomon creates absolute love through her words and her sensations.
Through love in this story, God becomes flesh through the sensations that romantic love stirs in him. And all the senses confirm the love: the sound of the Lover’s voice, the way the Lover looks, the way the Lover feels when she caresses him. It is the ultimate transformation of God to become that which not only appeals to the Lover, but also makes him able to unite with the Lover.
In addition, during the tale, the Lover abandons the Beloved twice. Both times the Beloved goes out after her Lover. The first time she manages to find him. The second time, not only does she lose him, she is attacked by the watchmen and they strip her of her veil. God’s love for Man, then, here is revealed to the world. He stands naked before the world.
It would not be God who abandons his lover twice, only to allow her to be attacked, if not arrested. It would be Man who gets lost on his way to find his lover, or changes his mind and wanders off somewhere else.
God, and his love, are absolute. It is always yearning for union with Man.
And it is the Beloved in the Song of Solomon who has a heart that is awake with love even when she is asleep. It is the Beloved’s love that is always there for the Lover.
The search by God for Man in the Song of Solomon echoes God’s search for Man in the Garden of Eden. The Beloved even describes her Lover as an apple tree, and describes his fruit as sweet to her taste.
Absolute perfection in love is the gift of the Beloved’s, for the Lover to take or leave as he wills. God’s love is unwavering.
Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave; the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.
Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it; if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.
There is nothing so valuable on Earth as romantic love. Nothing as strong except death. And nothing can kill love.
So love is, in this very odd book of the Bible, God’s force on Earth that we are meant to take up and use to bring this sad planet back to its absolute ideals.