Magazine article The Christian Century

Old-Fashioned Love Song

Magazine article The Christian Century

Old-Fashioned Love Song

Article excerpt

IT IS AUTUMN AGAIN, and life is speeding up. Students are back in school, classes are beginning and the fall programs of churches are in full swing. Wouldn't it be good to find a spiritual discipline for these days that would remind us of the pace and the blessings of summer?

Now is a good time to open our Bibles just left of center and read the Song of Songs. It's a forgotten book, hidden away between pragmatic Ecclesiastes and monumental Isaiah, but if you look, you'll find it, shining with summer's golden light.

In its current state of neglect, it is difficult to remember that the Song of Songs was once viewed as a key capable of unlocking the whole of scripture. Readers found in its pages a garden in which one might meet God walking in the cool of the day, a pool of meaning in which one might swim and swim and never sound the bottom, a window through which one might see the glory of God. This book of love poetry, in which no body part is left uncelebrated, no fragrance or taste undescribed, was once a devotional text par excellence. This book, which nowhere mentions God, once functioned as a cherished path to profound intimacy with God.

For Christians these days, the Song functions as quarry for wedding readings and not much else. Why have we forgotten it? Without the structure of allegory to give shape to our readings, are we made so uncomfortable by its frank eroticism that we'd rather ignore it?

There's a long history of anxiety about the Song. In the third century, Origen of Alexandria, one of the Song's greatest interpreters, warned that the Song was such powerful stuff that it should not be read at all until one had conquered one's passions. But fear did not drive Origen's reading; love did. Even as he worried about its unpredictable erotic power, he recommended that we pray the Song of Songs and make its words our own. "Join with the Bride in saying what she says," he advises, "so that you may also hear what she heard."

If we are to recover the Song of Songs as a text of devotion in our day, it will be by taking Origen's words to heart. If we are to find in the Song a path to intimacy with God, it will be by joining the lovers in saying what they say so that we may also hear what they heard.

Try this: take 1:15-16 and make it your prayer for a day or two. …

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