This post is part of a reflective Lenten series, originally published as Facebook posts on my personal account.
Lenten practice, day #22.
Reference: Songs 8:1-14
I really don’t think that the author of this book could have ended Song of Solomon any better. There is so, so, so much packed into these last 14 verses that I’m not even sure how to go about reflecting on it all. We may as well try though, right?
First, the bride goes back to the idea of her lover as brother. She cherishes him so much that she almost wishes he was HER brother–that she may have spent that much more of her life alongside of him. (Of course, this would change the nature of her current relationship with him, but that’s not the point. The point is she loves him THAT much, she would rather be with him a long time. What a blessing it is for her to now get to spend the rest of her life with him!)
She continues on what is probably a separate thought (it can be hard to tell in the Bible) to say that she’s not ashamed to kiss him in public, to express her affection to him in plain view of everyone. And she seems to imply that their love is so healthy and authentic that onlookers wouldn’t even jeer or tease her about it–their love is overflowing THAT much.
She indicates a willingness to serve him, to show her love for him in practical ways. She asks him to teach her how to best serve him to his own liking, to shower him beautiful things he enjoys.
(DISCLAIMER: Lest any of you hastily accuse the author of this book as being sexist or oppressive towards women, I’d like to step off of our soapboxes for a minute to examine a) the reality of the Bible passage, b) the context of the larger Scripture, and c) reality.
A) This is erotic love poetry. The premise of this entire poem are two people so enraptured in one another that either would do anything for the other. Is it surprising that she wants to shower him with good and beautiful things? Is it surprising that she wants to serve him? As a famous liberation theologian once pointed out, there is an enormous difference between servitude and service. This is the latter, this is freeing, this is mutual, and this is very, very good.
B) Many people seem to think that the Bible is oppressive to women, and could easily use this as a passage normalizing oppressive mentalities, even IN women. There are certainly verses scattered throughout the Bible that could be used to promote the theory of Biblical oppression. Absolutely. But the reality of Scripture is that the majority of verses and overarching message of the Bible does not indicate that AT ALL. Anything can be taken out of context (shall we simply look to the media to see that?), but accusations are invalid when they are out of context. Only a fool buys into a non-contextual accusation. (I’ll admit it, I’ve been there. And now I make every effort to educate myself first. You can, too.) Finally, just to drive home my point, allow me to explain the overarching message of the Bible by quoting two verses that might be considered the pinnacle of that mutually-empowering message with which the Bible so wonderfully challenges the world (I’d also like to point out that the first of these two verses is one of the most misquoted verses, and its successor is one of the most underquoted) :
Here’s the first verse (Ephesians 5:24):
“But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.”
And that first verse is almost NEVER quoted in the context of the verse that immediately follows it (verse 25):
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”
Allow me to translate:
Ladies, trust the man God has given you, the one you pledged your life to, the one whose flesh you now share by virtue of the vow you made before the entire Church and God Himself. Follow him, trust him, and pray earnestly that Christ will lead him.
Men, love (that is, will the good of) that women which YOU pledged your life to and whose flesh you now share by virtue of the vow you made before the entire Church and God Himself. Desire her absolute good in EVERYTHING and NEVER put yourself or your good before hers. In fact, you should will her good the way that Christ willed the good of his Church: be ready and willing to die for her.
Sound surprising? That’s probably because no one ever quotes the second verse, which suddenly makes the first verse ATTRACTIVE. The man I vowed myself to is willing to do everything in his power for me, spend all of his energy for me, and even DIE protecting me? You bet I’m gonna trust him.
Suddenly, the Church isn’t misogynistic. Suddenly, the Church is holding women up on a level so high that the lives of men are oriented towards the good of their female counterparts. (Which, in turn, is the best good for the men…etc. etc. Don’t believe me? Check out this fantastic quote from Archbishop Fulton Sheen:
“When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.”
This leads me directly into my third and final point:
C) Reality. If we are called to love one another in marriage, it means we are called to will the good of the other. The ultimate good of every human person is to achieve their final purpose. That final purpose (as is made clear by nature of our identity as children of God made in his image) is to participate in the love (the communion) of the Trinity (ask me if you want more on that). This is known as Heaven. If the best good for every human person is to get to heaven, then the best good an individual can achieve for his/her spouse is to try to get him/her to heaven. That’s right. When you get married, you pledge to do EVERYTHING in your power to help your spouse make it to heaven. You can BET that takes a lot of service and sacrifice.)
Okay. Long parenthetical point over. Moving on to the next bit.
Again, we see the refrain, now as they consummate their love, of not arousing love before its time. As she finally partakes in complete union with her spouse, the bride again emphasizes the importance of patience and waiting for authentic love to GROW.
In this world of organic products and “green” campaigns, it’s amazing how artificial sex is! We force it, and when we don’t get enough, we supplement with pornography, masturbation, and adultery to name a few (yes, that includes hooking up. If you’re having sex with someone you’re not currently married to, that’s adultery. Adultery is MUCH more widespread than people immediately realize). Why? Just as putting chemicals into our bodies that our bodies aren’t meant for is ultimately bad for us but can taste really good, partaking in sexual activities that our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls weren’t made for is ultimately very bad for us. But we do it cause it’s nice in the moment, right? How backwards is that? Let’s go green–green sex.
Next, we get an image of the lovers walking up from the desert, mutually leaning on each other. Just let that sink in for a moment. I don’t care what romantic stuff fairy tales tell you, THIS image is the reality of marriage. Yes, fairy tales are nice and entertaining. But when it comes to the reality of the relationship, this is the image that communicates the truth. It’s about walking through the beauty of the desert, the heat of the desert, the challenges of the desert, the surprises of the desert–all of it–whilst leaning on your lover so that you can make it to the oasis of heaven. But don’t forget to enjoy the trip along the way–the desert, although not your destination–is the journey.
Then, as they consummate their love, the groom lovingly reflects on this beautiful act which brought his bride into existence–now something he is able to enjoy with her and bless her with! For generations and generations, it has ALWAYS started HERE. What a heritage!
The bride speaks, explaining this act as the seal on their relationship. They are expressing with their bodies the vows they made with their words at their wedding. A seal, indeed! Imprinted upon their hearts already, and now with their bodies.
She goes on to explain the indestructibility of authentic love, affirming that it is as powerful as–no, MORE powerful–than any force of destruction in the world. Of what are we afraid?!
Then, a beautiful, BEAUTIFUL section as the virtue of chastity is here affirmed. First, I need to clear up some misunderstandings about chastity.
- Chastity isn’t just not having sex. It IS having sex–in the proper context. Based on everything I said above about vows and promises and body language, chastity holds that the only place for that is within marriage, and only with your spouse–because it is THAT GOOD. But within marriage, it is SO important to HAVE SEX. (With the right intention, of course. But that’s a post for a different day.) You can be just as chaste saving yourself outside of marriage as you are having sex regularly WITHIN marriage.
- Chastity IS founded on respect. IT’s purity of action and purity of intention based on your respect for another. This respect is based on and founded in your LOVE for another–your desire to will their good. You have a chaste relationship with your grandmother just as much as you have a chaste relationship with your boyfriend or girlfriend. It is all about respect. Chastity looks different in every relationship.
Okay. So here, her chastity is celebrated. She recounts how her older brothers, out of their love and respect for her (their CHASTITY), desired to help teach her the importance of the virtue. How beautiful! NOTE: Her chastity does not go away now that she’s married. Instead, it continues as she is faithful to her spouse.
Another note: Chastity is not a one-time virtue. If something happens that causes you to be “unchaste,” you aren’t a lost cause. Chastity can start and restart at any time, it all depends on your authentic intention. That’s the beauty of the cross, and the beauty of God’s love.
Finally, to wrap up the book under the heading “Life Together,” the groom and his bride each speak, telling how much they desire to pursue the other. The groom wishes to hear her voice–even his friends await!–and she again encourages him to hasten in pursuing her–how she misses him when he is absent!
That was a great run. Thanks so much for sticking with me through that book. Such an interesting read.