The Greatest of Songs

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I want to take back the Song of Songs.

I want to take it back from its designation as “Wedding material.”

I want to take it back from sniggering high schoolers.
And I want to take it back from the gushy love birds who lay claim to all knowledge and understanding of love and desire.

In my seminary Psalms and Wisdom Literature course, we read the Song of Songs in its entirety. Out loud. As I was one of few women in the class for whom English was a first language, I volunteered to read the woman’s part. I was pretty sure this was about to be the most uncomfortable class I had ever participated in.

But…it wasn’t. It was glorious. My male counterpart and I read our parts, conversing, the book coming alive, the relationship of these two lovers revealed, the words of the text dancing around in my mouth, full of light and vibrancy. I was almost in tears by the end of it.

Then we debriefed. And within thirty seconds, that glorious bubble had been popped.

My co-reader told the class that while reading, he had pulled up an image of his wife on his laptop. A classmate said, “That must have helped with your reading. I felt more passion from you than from Laura. Maybe you’ve had to have experienced love to be able to read this properly.”

Woof.

It felt as though I had been dismissed, like I had no part in reading this book because I hadn’t had a man stare at me intensely through a lattice.

I haven’t been able to shake that experience, even after three years.

This week as I prepare to preach on Song of Songs 2:8-13, it’s been on my mind a lot. And I don’t want it to be. I want to redeem that experience of reading this song out loud. I want to love this song freely and with reason, not feeling like a fraud in my singleness. So I’m claiming it for my own.

Because this greatest of songs is about many things, but not just about human sexuality. And its not just an allegory of God’s relationship with his people. It’s also about longing, and excitement, and living deeply, and sucking the marrow out of life, and whimsy, and delight, and beauty, and language, and community.

And it’s about God. What he has done, what he is doing, what he will do. The Song of Songs is an invitation to life.

This is a song full of garden imagery. With our two love birds, it’s not hard to think back to that first garden, that perfect garden, where man and woman lived together in harmony with nature and each other and God. A time of creation, that first Spring, when the world was made new.

This isn’t the only time in Scripture such imagery is used. At the very end, John of Patmos tells us of the new heaven and the new earth, coming down from heaven as a bride prepared for her husband. There will be no more sorrow or death or pain in that new earth. For the voice from the throne declares, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Creation and flourishing bookends God’s story. And right in the middle of that story is this song, the greatest of songs, a depiction of newness and delight and flourishing in the present. An invitation for all to see the goodness of creation and revel in it, as a woman revels in the sound of her beloved’s voice.

As I began to study this text on Monday, I happened upon Peter Gregson’s re-composition of the Gigue from Bach’s Cello Suite #6 in D Major. I’ve listened to it over and over, because it truly feels like what you would hear if this greatest of songs was in fact put to music.

As the music swells, you can picture Elizabeth and Darcy dancing together, all else forgotten in the surprising intimacy of the moment. But you can also picture a hiker lifting his poles in triumph as he reaches a mountain summit. Or a mother taking a child to her breast for the first time. Or a group of friends running down a sand dune, tripping and falling and laughing. Or a grandson swiping a big old glob of cake batter out of the bowl as grandma pretends not to see. Or the crackle of a fire on a not-yet-too-cold Autumn evening. Or an airport reunion of old friends. Or the completion of a good book.

Or the voice of the one who created us and calls us beloved, gazing at us with joy and delight as he says what he has said before and will continue to say until the day it is finally, ultimately, really true:

Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me.
See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves is heard in our land.
The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.

Peter Gregson - Bach Recomposed: Cello Suite No. 6 in D Major, 6. Gigue

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Beautifully written - Thank you.