Romancing the Word

By Smith, Martin | Sojourners Magazine, September/October 2012 | Go to article overview

Romancing the Word


Smith, Martin, Sojourners Magazine


BY THE LATE MIDDLE AGES, which book of the Bible had inspired the most commentaries? The surprising answer is: Song of Solomon-a book that never mentions God once. There were more than 200 commentaries! A quirky piece of Christian trivia? Maybe. But it isn't trivial that for more than a millennium this collection of love poems was taken as the key to opening the innermost meaning of the whole biblical revelation. It was read-or rather explored through contemplation-as a poetic allegory of the quest of a God to awaken the creatures reciprocal desire. God, overflowing with yearning desire for creation, seeks union with us and arouses our own latent longing to be loved passionately, totally, and unconditionally.

A single reading this month provides a rare stimulus to explore this erotic poem as the Word of God. Some may want to take it as a signal to celebrate the sacredness of sex and intimacy, though we must note that marriage, home, domesticity, and childbeanng lie entirely outside the poem's scope. But it may be more adventurous to find in the hottest pages of the Bible permission to reinterpret the love of God through erotic metaphor, as our Christian forbears did. Benedictine monk Sebastian Moore gives us a hint: Why not reimagine the idea of the will of God-usually supposed to be a preordained plan that calls only for our obedience-in terms of God's long-| ing for union with us, "the wanting-to-be of God in our lives"?

[Sidebar]

[ SEPTEMBER 2 ]

In the Mirror

Song of Solomon 2:8-13; Psalm 15; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8,14-15, 21-23

THE LETTER OF James seems to lie at an opposite pole to the reading from the Song of Solomon. James isn't the most attractive kind of reading. Diatribe is a genre few people warm to today, and this letter can sound didactic, sarcastic, and nagging. However, the image of the mirror calls for imaginative development. "If any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like" (1:23-24).

There is a process of reflection that is essential for establishing a link between hearing the divine summons to the life of self-giving, compassion, and peacebuild-ing, and actually committing oneself to it through persevering action. This process requires a willingness to know oneself and accept one's own humanity, poverty, and vulnerability. Those who "do the word," as James' compelling idiom has it, are those who have spent time looking at their own faces long enough to accept the paradoxes of the human condition: our giftedness and our brokenness, our talents and our neediness. They have found the spur to action through a costly self-knowledge that has broken down the excuses that we use to justify indolence in the face of the injustices and inequalities around us.

[ SEPTEMBER 9 ]

'Conquerors of Heaven's Will'

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 146; James 2:1-17; Mark 7:24-37

THE RUTHLESS WAY single-minded people stay focused on their main task, the social risks they take by maintaining boundaries and rejecting distractions, is more offensive than impressive to most of us who like to please people and keep juggling lots of balls in the air. Mark's gospel isn't in the least afraid to present the ruthless focus of Jesus on his mission to his own people as something bound to offend. "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs" (7:27). It makes Jesus' instant concession of defeat by the Syro-Phoenician woman, who uses his own put-down against him in a brilliant verbal judo throw, all the more intriguing. It suggests the willingness of divine grace to be taken on and won over by sheer human determination not to take no for an answer.

The best key to this passage is found in some verses from Dante's Paradiso, where the poet takes his cue from the very enigmatic remark attributed to Jesus in Matthew 11: "The kingdom of God has suffered violence and the violent take it by force" (12). …

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