This post is part of a reflective Lenten series, originally published as Facebook posts on my personal account.
Lenten practice, day #16.
Reference: Songs 2:1-17.
I know a lot of my fellow ladies out there are gonna hate me for this, but it struck me as hilariously typical that in this chapter the bride is overwhelmingly heard while the groom has a grand total of two lines.
Hey, I won’t be shocked at all if that’s what my marriage looks like. In fact, it probably will be. Embrace it.
Anyway, chapter 2.
A few things stuck out to me in this reading. The first is verse five which reads, “Strengthen me with raisin cakes / refresh me with apples / for I am faint with love.”
That partially makes me giggle because of how specific it is. Raisins and apples only, please. No exceptions.
Clearly she simply means that she’s so overcome by this love that she’s become faint and needs to be revived. It’s still humorous, though. Besides, love and food? What more can you really ask for right?
The line “for I am faint with love” really catches me, though. Have you ever been around someone or cuddled with someone or hugged someone that it felt SO GOOD to be around/cuddle/hug that person that it almost overwhelmed you? Have you ever had someone express affection to you in such a way that you felt so overwhelmed with joy that you almost wanted to collapse into the hug and just let the affection wash over you? (But then you stop yourself before you actually do collapse into it because a) that would be awkward and b) it would probably freak out whoever’s hugging you.)
What a wonderful feeling, that surrender to joy. People often forget that surrender to love is really the core of Christianity. It’s also the core of Islam—the word itself means “surrender”—and many other religions? Why? Because it’s fundamentally built INTO HUMAN NATURE to desire to love and be loved. Sure, there are people who spend their lives fighting that desire. Sure, there are people who go about fulfilling that desire in all the wrong ways. Of course there are people who would disagree with that statement either from a personal level or citing some dark historical figure. But REALLY trace it back—it’s simply the truth. Everyone desires that loving relationship with another and his or her perceived failure/success at achieving that relationship drives everything. (It goes back to the Padre Arrupe quote about falling in love.)
It’s so amazing that our destiny—to love and be loved in perfect communion (hear: exchange, relationship) forever—exactly matches our desires. God could easily have designed us for one end, but planted in our hearts the desire for another—that would have sucked for everyone. (We wouldn’t ultimately be satisfied, and God would have a LOT of people failing to achieve their purpose.) Thankfully, God is was more loving and intelligent than that. He builds us so that we DESIRE that which we were created for. He offers us a “path of least resistance,” so to speak. Now don’t get me wrong—our desires can become twisted—but when we dig to the bottom of those urges and longings and straighten out exactly what they were originally intended to be (before sin) and WHY they were there in the first place, we always find that they lead us back to God. Always.
The other line that really catches my attention is in verse 7, “Do not arouse, do not stir up love before its own time.”
Immediately before this, the bride draws an anologolly between love and “gazelles and hinds.” This is a symbol lost on modern ears: gazelles and hinds (an animal) were often associated with love due to their swiftness and their soft, innocent eyes.
The bride’s point, then, is that much like these quick, alert, wild animals, you can’t force a relationship with love. You must be patient and allow the gazelle to come to you before you can feel the softness of its fur or the strength of its powerful neck. The same is true of love, especially the eros being used here to mirror agape. (Did that sound like Greek to you? Good. It was Greek. Ask me in the comments and I can explain.) If we try to force intimacy, it simply dashes away unexpectedly and leaves us alone. However, if we allow the relationship to develop authentically and gradually, real trust is built and the loyalty in the relationship is far, far stronger.
This is immediately clear when it comes to eros, but agape may be a bit more difficult to understand. With eros, the fickleness of prematurely “aroused, stirred up” love could be on the side of either (or both) lovers—in fact, usually each individual assumes it’s the fault of the other. In agape, however, the fickleness is always on our side. When we try to quickly build a relationship with God to reap certain benefits (“C’mon, God, I know I haven’t talked to you in years, but just let my team win big this once!”), it’s not that God isn’t responding or truly reaching out, rather that the relationship isn’t being authentically built on our end. As soon as our wish is fulfilled, or we perceive anything as “going wrong” on God’s end, we’re done. (“ So much for all-powerful God. He couldn’t even let Xavier into the Sweet Sixteen.” (NOT actually something I believe, btw’s. Just to clear my name a bit.)) That fails to fulfill both our longing for love and God’s longing for us.
The bride, then, warns against attempting to stir up or arouse love before its own time. Instead, it should grow organically, and in doing so will thrive in a relationship that can properly accommodate for that love. It also, in coming “in its own time,” will then be honest. The corporal, spiritual, and emotional pledge of the marital act is dishonest if performed when the marriage vows aren’t actually there. To allow love to come “in its own time” means for it to be honest, not “in the heat of the moment” nor forced. Neither of those two extremes are healthy for love. Instead, it should be in its own time. Because I know someone’s going to protest, here’s a disclaimer: Of course, that’s not to say that forced loves, “in the heat of the moment” loves, or even (unintentionally) dishonest loves can’t eventually work—but they must transform into authentic, honest loves to do so.
The purity, patience, increased desire, and virtue that is built by the love that is not aroused before its time is a further gift from God and fruit of that love. It’s truly amazing how ridiculously abundant God’s blessing are. Not only are we built to desire that for which we are destined, but we are awarded a million times over for doing so—blessings on blessings on blessings! Or, as Oprah would say, “You get a blessing! And YOU get a blessing! And YOU GET A BLESSING!”