Perhaps the most bewildering question about the Song of Solomon, or the Song of Songs, or Canticles – the book has gone by many names – is how it ended up in the Bible, a sacred text.
Historical criticism insists that the Song was written just as it seems to have been – as a love song, a peon to romantic and physical love. There are parts of it which would make a lector blush to read it aloud in church. It is real, and human, and needy, and yearning, and loving, and far removed from what we might expect to hear proclaimed on a Sunday morning or a Saturday night.
But it has grown theological moss, spiritual outcrops, allegorical hair, over the years. So what to do with it today?
We can go one of two ways. We can spiritualize the poem to the point where its meaning is far removed from its words, where its impact is less earthy, where it demands fewer blushes and more furrowed brows to decipher.
Or we can admit that we belong to a faith in which God loves us in all of our creaturely being; to the extent that God became a creaturely being in order to love us the better, to save us, to restore us, to make us whole.
So should we reject our deepset yearnings, our erotic imaginings, keeping them safe from our prayers, and our prayers safe from them? Should we hide our sexual selves from God, afraid of being found naked, because we are ashamed of what God made us to be?
Or should we allow God to ravish our beings, body and soul, to enter into every part of our lives, to love us unconditionally and without limits?
The dangers of removing our bodies from our being with God are clear. How far will we go? Will we pretend that God does not see our desires? Will we, then, allow ourselves any indulgence, given that God does not see, while condemning each of our neighbours, on the grounds that we do see, and that God does not, so that we can legitimately usurp God’s position of judgement over them?
The dangers of allowing our bodies to love God, and God to love our bodies, are more intimate; they are the dangers, the vulnerabilities that accompany the journey into intimacy with a new lover, with one to whom we trust ourselves, our secret selves, our naked souls.
“Arise, my love my fair one, and come away … Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag upon the mountains of spices!”