Romancing the Word (September 2012)

By the late Middle Ages, which book of the Bible had inspired the most commentaries? The surprising answer is: Song of Solomon—a book that never mentions God once. There were more than 200 commentaries! A quirky piece of Christian trivia? Maybe. But it isn’t trivial that for more than a millennium this collection of love poems was taken as the key to opening the innermost meaning of the whole biblical revelation. It was read—or rather explored through contemplation—as a poetic allegory of the quest of a God to awaken the creature’s reciprocal desire. God, overflowing with yearning desire for creation, seeks union with us and arouses our own latent longing to be loved passionately, totally, and unconditionally.

A single reading this month provides a rare stimulus to explore this erotic poem as the Word of God. Some may want to take it as a signal to celebrate the sacredness of sex and intimacy, though we must note that marriage, home, domesticity, and childbearing lie entirely outside the poem’s scope. But it may be more adventurous to find in the hottest pages of the Bible permission to reinterpret the love of God through erotic metaphor, as our Christian forbears did. Benedictine monk Sebastian Moore gives us a hint: Why not reimagine the idea of the will of God—usually supposed to be a preordained plan that calls only for our obedience—in terms of God’s longing for union with us, “the wanting-to-be of God in our lives”?

Martin L. Smith is an Episcopal priest, author, preacher, and retreat leader.

[ September 2 ]
In the Mirror
Song of Solomon 2:8-13; Psalm 15;
James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

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