This post is part of a reflective Lenten series, originally published as Facebook posts on my personal account.
Lenten practice, day #15.
Reference: Song of Songs 1:1-17
I’m a bit sad that Tobit’s over–it’s literally my favorite book in the entire Bible (have I made that clear enough? haha)–but on we move to Song of Songs!
Before we delve in, I’d like to explain why I chose this particular book. There are several reasons:
- It’s a challenge for me. As I mentioned on day 13, I often find songs in the Bible to be terribly difficult to read. Taking the time to meditate and reflect strictly on this one, enormous (8 chapter) song will be good for me. (Julie, you’re in luck!)
- As you may know, I’m very interested in and involved in Theology of the Body. This book is absolutely integral to JPII’s writing in TOB, and I could use a refresher.
- The entire book is written (as I’m about to explain in more depth) about the relationship between God and his people–using the analogy of married lovers. GOODNESS DOES IT GET BETTER THAN THAT? (Perhaps you can see how TOB fits in now?)
- #ItsOnlyLentOnce (peryear) Or something. Do I really need an excuse?
First, a bit of background on the book itself. Its traditional title is “Song of Solomon” because it was believed he authored these lyrics. While that’s certainly possible, modern scholarship (so take it with a grain of salt) indicates that these were probably written some time after Solomon lived. The title was then updated to “Song of Songs,” which is a way of saying “The Greatest Song” or “The Most Wonderful Song.”
Second, the entire poem is written as an analogy. The image of passionate, married lovers is used to describe three levels of symbolism:
- The level of closeness and intimacy God desires in his relationship with each one of us. (Clarification: this is an ANALOGY of the INTIMACY. Our relationship with God is not sexual and will never be sexual (how come? topic for a different day. message me privately). However, the marital act of sex is literally the closest two living humans can be, so it has been repeatedly used throughout history as the main analogy for the kind of relationship we are destined to experience with God, which will be a million times more close than sex can ever be).
- The union between God and the Virgin Mary (please note: this level is strictly prophetic as the pre-Jesus author could not possibly have intended that symbolism)
- The union between God and his Church (that is, the entire communion of believers). (Again, analogy of the intimacy, not the nature of the relationship.)
That being said, as it’s a poem about married lovers, it does get rather erotic. If it makes you squirm a bit, that’s okay. I’ll probably be squirming a bit, too. But if we can look past the face value of the writing, the truths being revealed beneath are worth ANY amount of squirming.
Third, the entire song is written sort of like the script of a play–each line is assigned to a different character. I don’t know about your translation, but mine differentiates between three speakers:
- Daughters of Jerusalem
This will be important later on.
The first line of the first chapter introduces us to the bride and REALLY set the tone–in fact, it caught me a little off guard:
“Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth!”
(I do have to giggle a bit here. Like, what other kind of kisses…? You know what, don’t tell me. It’s probably better that I don’t know. Unless it’s like, butterfly kisses or Eskimo kisses or something.)
Silly initial reactions aside, there is a real reason for the weird wording. The clarification “of his mouth” is actually really important in the original Hebrew: to emphasize something, you simply repeated in a slightly different way. The point here is that the bride wants to be authentically kissed and only by HIS sweet, tender lips.
I’ve never had wine before (Jesus’ blood doesn’t count, and sweet heavens I hope it’s tastier than that), so I mentally replace “wine” with “Nutella” in verse 2 and it is all kinds of amazing. How sweet, this relationship! This desire to entirely and authentically pour oneself out for the other–THAT is heaven.
As I read through this, a critical, protective part of my mind warns me that the author is certainly idealizing each of the lovers. But remember: this isn’t a story about a human bride and human groom, but of the God we will one day be perfectly intimate with. Idealize away! Nothing we ever romanticize about God will ever actually account for who he is–he’s far more ideal and romantic than we can ever know because he CREATED us to fit exactly with him. Even our most perfect ideal is 100% guaranteed to be satisfied in God.
Not gonna lie, a little confused at what the Daughters of Jerusalem are doing there. (we’ll call them DJs for short) (ooh, that’s going to make for some interesting sentences down the line). I mean, if I was going on and on about my lover in such private terms…I don’t know that I’d want a flock of girls following me around listening. But maybe. Besides, from a literary standpoint, it’s much like the chorus in the Illiad, it’s used to help further the plot, create action, and narrate. I can deal.
The titles of each section in my Bible are certainly interesting. “Love’s desires” “Love’s boast” “Love’s Inquiry…Vision…Union.” (I got sick of retyping that). It’s nice to be reassured that all of these things are very natural–we have desires because they lead us to our destiny with Christ. We are drawn to boast (although we should not) because we are so excited about what we’ve got. We love because we want to empty ourselves for another and have another empty themselves for us, so we are curious, we see things a certain way, and we long for permanence and relationship.
I just can’t go into all of these little bits–it’s too much. Read this chapter yourself. Hopefully your translation is like mine–it’s so powerfully worded! The pouring out of compliments and beautiful way each describes the other–one day we get to have THAT with God if we choose to accept it. Yes, PLEASE!
Anyway, there’s a lot here I don’t have the space to unpack. Thoughts? Especially from any married individuals?