By Rev. Joan Kessler
Song of Songs 2: 8-13 and 8: 6-7
Have you ever written a love letter? Do you remember that special person whom you were writing to? Do you recall what you said? Do you remember the exhilaration of putting pen to paper and sharing those words that came straight from your heart? Was it plain foolscap or maybe a nice card or fancy stationary with a matching envelope? I think I was around four-and-a-half or five years old when I wrote my first love letter. Well, actually, I think I dictated it to my Mum and she wrote it. I had been a flower girl in our neighbor’s wedding party and my partner for the day, the ring-bearer, was a nice boy named Steven and as fate would have it, we were exactly the same age and shared the same birthday and we would of course also marry one day because that’s how love at 5 works. You can’t imagine it not lasting or being any different. He lived a few hours away from me and we corresponded through the mail and sent one another small mementos that would fit in small envelopes. And then the inevitable happened: we grew up and we moved along life’s paths in different directions. But as I thought about this reflection this past week, I remembered this first friend. It’s good to remember being four-and-a-half. The experience of being full human is all about knowing and experiencing Love, even through the eyes of a child.
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and I learned a bit more about this day. St. Valentine was believed to be an early priest who may have been martyred for helping third-century persecuted Christians to marry. None of his story is confirmed by history and the catholic church’s liturgical veneration of him was discontinued but he remains listed as a recognized saint. Fourteenth century English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer may be more responsible for this heart-holiday. In his poem, Parliament of Foules, he linked romantic love to St. Valentine’s feast day. And he also declared that February 14 was the day birds came together to find a mate. It has come to be known as a day for lovebirds, for showing care and affection through cards, flowers and chocolates.
Our reading today is not a typical Sunday morning reading. Instead of being a part of a book, it is a portion of a lyrical poem that contains some very evocative and sensuous imagery detailing the love affair between a man and a woman. The Song of Songs is sometimes also referred to as the Song of Solomon because of an opening reference to Solomon but scholars do not believe it was written by him. Solomon had a harem of hundreds of women and this was likely written by one who knew healthy, monogamous, and life-giving Love.
It’s called Song of Songs like we call something the Holy of Holies or the King of Kings. It is a romantic poem about love in a world fraught with danger. Unfortunately, we are not able to read it in its entirety this morning, but I hope today’s reflection will encourage you to go and find it for yourselves later today or some point in time this week as we prepare to celebrate Valentine’s Day…
The dominant voice in the poem is that of an unnamed woman. The portions we heard Adam read moments ago were all told from the perspective of the woman who declares this potent and inexhaustible love for another. The predominance of the woman’s voice is another strong argument for calling this poem the Song of Songs and not the Song of Solomon because of the way the biblical text typically likes to render women as invisible. The Song of Songs is told from the perspective of a woman and it is her voice is at the center of the poem’s actions and meaning. She renounces the patriarchy of her day and the freedom she finds to express her love.
But there is more to this love poem than the physical and emotional desire of a young couple. It is also about a love of the land. Few texts from scripture are filled with as many images related to the natural world as the Song. Reading these short 8 chapters, the fictious couple occupies all kinds of different landscapes. From plentiful vineyards to fields and flower gardens. This couple is surrounded by the bounty of the land: apples, figs, spices. And now Spring is about to arrive, the winter has past, and the vines and trees are in blossom, and they give forth fragrance.
We are invited to enter a lush and fertile landscape. We are invited to this love affair with our created world, to use all our senses to experience a kind of grounded intimacy. This poem begs the question: Have we lost touch with the rhythms of nature, the practices that teach us about the cherry crop that is to come? Can we identify native plants and animal or are we losing touch with these things? We don’t know the world that is around us, and if we don’t know the natural world we inhabit, how can we enjoy it or protect it? This poem takes us outside as a means of reconnecting with our habitats. Spring is coming in the Song of Songs. The blossoms will open, and the cycle of life will begin once again.
There is no mention of God or Spirit or any theophany in the Song of Songs. Often interpreters call it an allegory for the love between God and the house of Israel or Jesus and the Church. God is Love. This piece is a call to love… to cultivate it in our human relationships and our relationship with nature. Like any experience of reading poetry, we are privy to the poet’s experience, and we are left to give our own conclusions and interpretations. The couple in this lyric could be any couple and they remind us of what love is and the excitement and the passion and what makes it good to be alive.
We have worked hard this new year on Church things; on talking about and bringing to life our mission priorities, but today is a good day to just come and to be reminded of the gift of true love. It’s why we are here - Love Lives Here - God is Love. To take these words and images and their evocativeness to us and savor them if only for but a moment. We are reminded today that spring is coming. Blossoms await to break forth. The cycle of life is preparing to begin once again. And may we hear the call to Love. May we remember that Love is as strong as death/passion fierce as the grave. Neither fire nor water can consume, nor any amount of money purchase her. As we move into our meeting this morning, may our care and concern, our love of one another be the order of the day.
Happy Valentine’s Day to you all and Amen.