Magazine article The Christian Century

Song for a Time of Terror

Magazine article The Christian Century

Song for a Time of Terror

Article excerpt

WHEN THE BOMBS exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, I was a few miles away, sitting around a table with colleagues from near and far, discussing the Song of Songs. We were a small group of scholars from a wide range of disciplinary perspectives, but we all love the Song, even though we read it in very different ways. What I loved about this gathering is that when a presenter at one end of the table would start quoting from the Song, a murmur would rise up around the table as others joined in. The Song of Songs was pressed into each person's memory, written on each heart through long study. That morning, one participant commented joyfully, "Everyone here loves the Song as much as I do!"

By the time we broke for coffee, the bombs had exploded. The heroes had already run toward the blasts, torn off their clothes and tied them around the wounded bodies of strangers. Lives had already been irrevocably changed.

Word of the attack spread quickly. The host of the conference had a nephew running in the race; his family was there cheering him on. We found out that the nephew and family were safe. We passed this good news around, along with rumors that later turned out to be false: that the bombs had been in trashcans and that the police had dismantled two others. Some rumors turned out to be true: many people were badly hurt; legs had been shattered; people had died.

We had half an hour before beginning a panel discussion open to the public. We wondered if we should cancel it. But people had already assembled, and we decided to go ahead. The host welcomed everyone and made it clear that we should feel free to keep checking the news and to come and go as needed. He also reminded us that careful study of this sacred text was an affirmation of the profound worth of human life. The Song's vision of two lovers at home in the world is worth remembering, studying and cherishing--a good response, he suggested, to the terror of the day.

Each panelist examined the Song in a distinctive light, whether of literary criticism, Jewish philosophical theology, Christian allegory or pastoral practice. Members of the audience pushed the conversation forward, asking questions, contributing their own knowledge. Listening to discussion of the Song's great themes--mutuality in love, the goodness of the body, the responsiveness of creation, the pleasure and pain of desire--I thought: this is the opposite of setting off a bomb in a crowd of people. …

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