Song of Solomon

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Song of Solomon 5:2-8 (CEB)

2 I was sleeping, but my heart was awake.
A sound! My love is knocking:
“Open for me, my sister, my dearest,
my dove, my perfect one!
My head is soaked with dew,
my hair, with the night mists.”
3 “I have taken off my tunic—
why should I put it on again?
I have bathed my feet—
why should I get them dirty?”
4 My love put his hand in through the latch hole,
and my body ached for him.
5 I rose; I went to open for my love,
and my hands dripped myrrh,
my fingers, liquid myrrh,
over the handles of the lock.
6 I went and opened for my love,
but my love had turned, gone away.
I nearly died when he turned away.
I looked for him but couldn’t find him.
I called out to him, but he didn’t answer me.
7 They found me—the guards
who make their rounds in the city.
They struck me, bruised me.
They took my shawl away from me,
those guards of the city walls!
8 I place you under oath, daughters of Jerusalem:
If you find my love, what should you tell him?
That I’m weak with love!

I have always loved poetry. In college I had a professor who called them paintings with words. And, like a good landscape some poems are just what you see, such as Fog by Carl Sandburg:

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

And then there are the Picasso like poems, you know, the ones you have to think about, they say one thing and mean another such as the opening lines of the Song of Solomon:

2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—
for your love is more delightful than wine.
3 Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes;
your name is like perfume poured out.
No wonder the young women love you!
4 Take me away with you—let us hurry!
Let the king bring me into his chambers. (1:2-4)

For all intents and purposes this is nothing more than a love poem about a young couple in love. But if we look closer there is more than one meaning hidden in these beautiful words. We can read this as love poetry or we can interpret the Song of Songs as an allegory of God’s love for the Hebrew People, or Christs love for the church. I am sure if we sat down we would find another allegory that would work just as well.

The Song of Songs, as it is titled in the Hebrew bible, is one of five books called the “Five Scrolls.” They are The Song of Songs (a collection of eight poems), Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations and Esther. Of those five, the Song and Esther are the only two books in either the Hebrew or Christian canon that never mentions God, which makes them unique.

Sometime between the third and fourth century CE the Hebrew Canon was pretty much finalized. The discussion of the inclusion of the five scrolls, especially the Song of Songs, into the Hebrew Canon was fraught with controversary. The Song is after all very erotic and sensual poetry. While the poems use inuendo and metaphor instead of openly sexual language it was still not considered quite proper. It was eventually included because the Song was understood to have a more important meaning than simply love poems used for wedding ceremonies. Rabbi’s, such as the second century Rabbi Akiva, defended its inclusion saying, “while all of the sacred writings are holy, the Song of Songs is the holy of holies!”

Christians have also had a hard time accepting the Song as part of holy scripture, many considered it scandalous and not appropriate for Holy Bible. Christianity’s nearly 2000-year-old toxic attitude about sex has kept this sacred writing, that shows women in a positive light, from being studied and enjoyed for what it is. In The Forgotten Books of the Bible (2018) Robert Williamson writes “the third-century Christian theologian Origen warned . . . “that all but the most spiritually advanced people should abstain from reading the Song.” There was a fear that women who read the Song would somehow be “corrupted” and develop strange sexual longings to the detriment of the male ego. The uptight fathers of our faith simply could not accept that biblical writers could compose something as sensual and erotic as the Song of Songs! Yet Jewish tradition attributes these 8 poems to Solomon the son of David, the same David who stole Bathsheba from her husband, and the same Solomon who had 700 wives. Sexuality was Okey Dokey for biblical men, but women weren’t allowed to have the same urges. The shaming of women and blaming women for imagined male problems has been part of our culture long before St Augustine felt guilty about having sex. It is only now that we are seeing women courageously stepping up and saying no to male oppression and openly affirming they too are sexual creature’s beloved by God.

By the fifth century CE the Christian Biblical cannon was closed, which included our New Testament books and the Hebrew bible as the Old Testament. By accepting a majority of the books in the Hebrew Cannon the Christians of the 5th century was accepting the Song of Songs’ Jewish interpretation, with a minor variation. Jews interpreted the poems as God’s love for Israel and Christians as Christ’s love for the church, so not really all that different. But there is one more way to interpret the Song of Songs, and for us today, that is the interpretation I find so interesting and important. Let me describe the three ways to interpret the Song of Songs.

Of the three ways to interpret the Song of Songs, the first and foremost way is love poetry. The 8 poems celebrate young love, specifically the love between a young girl who cares for a vineyard and a young shepherd boy. The family wants to shelter their daughter, believing she isn’t ready to have a serious relationship, and, they would be wrong. Here she sings;

1 All night long on my bed
I looked for the one my heart loves;
I looked for him but did not find him.
2 I will get up now and go about the city,
through its streets and squares;
I will search for the one my heart loves.
So I looked for him but did not find him.
3 The watchmen found me
as they made their rounds in the city.
“Have you seen the one my heart loves?”
4 Scarcely had I passed them
when I found the one my heart loves.
I held him and would not let him go
till I had brought him to my mother’s house,
to the room of the one who conceived me.

Certainly not the words of an immature child. This poetry unabashedly celebrates the love between two people. There is no embarrassment or shame attached to their joy in their bodies and their total enjoyment of the pleasures of sex. The poems describe flirting, and playful language highlighting the excitement and joy the two lovers have in the presence of each other. To read the Song of Songs as paean to the sacredness of love is to remember and relish our own experience as lovers. That is what love poetry is for.
Unfortunately, the Songs of Songs has been ignored and push aside for so long that most people have never read it, and some don’t even know it is part of Holy Scripture. That is a real shame. Here is a biblical book that shows women in a favorable light, as a human who thinks, loves, celebrates, experiences grief, and loneliness just as men are depicted in scripture.

Our culture has always had a problem with sex and the church has had a role in creating that problem. Since the beginnings of the church we have had an unhealthy relationship with our bodies. This has resulted in half of humanity being told to be ashamed of who they are and the other half doing the shaming. Saint Augustin of Hippo (354-430 CE) played a huge role in how women were viewed and treated by the church. He was man consumed by guilt and one of those guilts was his guilt for having sex. His beliefs that women were the cause of mans downfall, i.e. Eve, were instrumental in the churches views on women. Having a Holy Book in the Bible celebrating the passion of young lovers’ and the enjoyment of each other signals the importance of loving and being loved.

The image of the strong female character, even though still a teenager, is an important image that empower women and girls, something our church fathers were very much against. The male church leaders were not in favor of giving up the power they had in the church to women. In this time of the “METOO” movements it is vital that positive images of biblical women be highlighted. It is time for women to claim their rightful place in God’s Kingdom, not as a second class, appendage to the male’s ego’s, but as equal partners in Gods creative universe.

The second, and third, way of looking at the Songs is with allegory. The interpretation of God/Christ, as the male character, and the people of Israel/the church as the female character is the traditional Jewish/Christian interpretation. Jewish tradition reads the Song during Passover as a reminder of God’s love by rescuing the Israelites from Egypt and the care God gave them during the Exodus. One beautiful passage describes God’s embrace of Israel, “His left arm is under my head, and his right arm embraces me.” (Song of Songs, 2:6) An intimate picture of God holding and loving humanity. Christians rarely read the Song, which is a sad commentary on our inhibitions.

At the beginning of this article I quote a passage from the song that paints another picture of God as the male lover. The lover comes late at night to the woman’s door and when she is slow to respond to his summons he walks away. When our young woman opens the door and finds him gone she runs into the street to look for him but instead is found by the guards and is abused and assaulted.

One interpretation alludes this passage to the Babylonian Exile, when God abandoned the Hebrew people. However, most Jewish, Christian, commentaries I read seemed to pass over this with a statement that acknowledges Gods inconsistency in dealing with the Hebrew people, or the Church, throughout history. But I find this passage disturbing. The idea of God simply abandoning humanity in times of suffering, pain, and crisis is abhorrent. How can a loving God do that? This leads into the Third and final, allegorical interpretation.

What if we identify God as the female lover and the male lover as the people of God? How does that change our view of the Song of Songs, of God, and of our role in our relationship with God? Reading the allegory as the female character transforms the Song of Songs. No longer is God the lover who goes gallivanting around the countryside, while the lady waits patiently for his return. God now is the one who says,

“I looked for the one my heart loves;
I looked for him but did not find him.
I will get up now and go about the city,
through its streets and squares;
I will search for the one my heart loves.” (3:1b-2a)

Now it is God who is the constant one, who waits for, and longs for the one she loves to return from wanderings and come into her arms. Humanity is the one who leaves, abandoning God. It is Humanity that turns away from the door when we believe God doesn’t answer quickly enough. It is God who risks being assaulted and beaten because she goes into the dark to find us. God’s claim on each of us is not of our doing, we are Gods because of God’s love for us. God’s love has nothing to do with faith, no, rather it is the matter of divine certainty. In a bad parody of Captain Picard, God made it so. When we read these words:

Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame. (8:6)

. . . we no longer hear humanity asking God to remember us but rather we hear God’s voice giving us the assurance that God will never forget, can never forget us, even unto death.

In the end there is no right or wrong way to read the Song of Songs. Read it as love poetry and revel in the celebration of young bodies, young people in love. Read it allegorically with God as the young man who passionately loves humanity, calling us beloved. Or read with God as the female lover who claims us before we claim her. Who waits for us to finish our wandering and return to her. Who goes into the dark and risk the divine life for us.

The Song of Songs is not shameful, rather it is the celebratory expression of human sexuality, and God’s passionate love for us. There is no other book in scripture that can express in a better way the passion and intimacy of God’s love for us, our love for God, and our love for each other.

Ruth Jewell, ©October 2, 2018

Lectio Divina: August 3, 2018, Ordinary Time 1 Corinthians 13 (NRSV)

13 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrong doing but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Meditation:

This passage from 1 Corinthians is probably one of the most well-known writings of Paul, yet no one understands or follows the simple mandate, love each other. Love, everyone knows what it is, everyone wants it, and it is probably the most hoarded grace of all time. Oscar Hammerstein II, wrote:

“A bell’s not a bell ’til you ring it –
A song’s not a song ’til you sing it –
Love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay –
Love isn’t love ’til you give it away!”

Love isn’t something you say, it’s something you do, you must express love in some way for it to have any meaning. To give it away is to hold someone when they hurt, offer the essentials of survival to those in desperate need, or sit and listen when no one will, that is love.

It sounds so simple and it is so hard to do. We humans just can’t get the idea of love right. The author of 1st Peter said: “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.” (4:8) Or, if you love enough you will let the irritations of life go. Unfortunately letting go is the farthest from many of our minds or behavior. God loved the Hebrews and as a result forgave them their sins repeatedly, and then he sent prophet after prophet to remind them of that love. God sent Jesus to tell the gentiles (that’s you and me) divine love was there for the asking. Trouble is we don’t ask, and we don’t give, we hoard.

All too often our lives are filled with the endings of love and compassion what we need are the beginnings, the constant expression of love, our eyes are dimmed to the graciousness that surrounds us and all creation. Love comes in many forms and, sadly, the only way we observe it is when we are hit over the head with compassion, kindness, and mercy. Yes I know there are those who say the word love and believe it’s good enough or they believe love only applies to those who think like they do, but saying is not enough, loving only those who love you is not enough. You must put love into action and when love is freely given away to all, it multiplies hundreds, thousands of times over and over.

Today our government promotes hate, greed, and racism as part of the evangelical cult that’s taken over our politicians’ lives. Love has no place in their world view, they love only those who see the world in their own twisted way. We see the result of their twisted understanding of love every time a person of color is killed, a law officer is killed, hate groups such as Nazis are allowed, encouraged, to harass and hurt people different from them. We see the hording of love every time we see injustice and when we keep silent and do nothing we become part of that cult of hatred and hoarding.

If we are to be faithful to Paul’s words and the teachings of each prophet God has sent, then we must put ourselves between those who do not show or share love with those in need. When we do not act we are just as guilty of hording love, compassion, justice, mercy and peace. It is our responsibility, our ministry, our job to act and pass the grace of love on multiplying it into infinity.

Ruth Jewell, ©August 3, 2018

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Women’s March, January 21, 2017 Seattle WA, Photo by Ruth Jewell

An Election Prayer

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Tomorrow, November 8th, is election day and I am becoming increasingly concerned about what will happen tomorrow and in the days and months that follow. This campaign has been so very divisive, hateful, and acrimonious that I fear for the safety of whoever wins and for our own. The name calling on both sides and the call to kill a candidate, the call to commit treason, and murder goes beyond anything we have seen before. We are in a difficult time where we need to step back and rethink our and way forward.

It will not be easy to heal the wounds opened in this election cycle to much hatred and anger has been spewed into our air to make this a comfortable process but we must begin to forgive each other if we are to be the people we profess to be. The spiritual practice of prayer, individual and corporate, helps us focus on each other rather our own selfish interests. Prayer can awaken our concern for the welfare of all and quiet our fears that we are threatened by forces we cannot control. Prayer gives us the courage and strength to take control of who we are as spiritual beings.

To begin I offer a prayer written by the Rev. Kara Markel, a pastor friend of mine, for the Council on Christian Unity, to begin our election day and post-election spiritual practice. As we offer our prayers may we remember Jesus cared for all of us; poor and rich, Christian and non-Christian, Male, female, and differently gendered, and peoples from all cultures and ethnicities. Let us open our hearts to reconciling with each other in prayer.

An Election Prayer
11/5/2016

Let us be a people at prayer in these days of waiting:

We pray for our president elect, that they will lead our country with strength and compassion; that they may represent the very best of the United States around the globe; that they may be committed to justice and peace, and bringing our nation together to address our challenges.

Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for our governors and legislators, that they will be responsive to their whole constituency and enact laws that ensure the wellbeing of all the people they represent.

Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for all others elected to public office, that their service to their people would be just and beyond reproach; that where ever they serve in local government, schools, or law enforcement, they would treat all people with dignity and serve the common good.

Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for our nation, our cities, and our neighborhoods, that together we can create a place where all people are respected and safe, where difference of opinion does not lead to violence, and where our combined creativity heals brokenness of all kinds.

Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray also that regardless of the outcome of this Election Day, we would remember that we are called by Christ to care for our neighbor, pursue peace and work for justice in our communities. Inspire us to work together, across divisions and difference, to create beloved community where ever we can.

Lord, hear our prayer.

From the Council on Christian Unity
written by The Rev. Kara Markell, Pastor
Lake Washington Christian Church
Kirkland, Washington

Ruth Jewell, ©November 7, 2016

GOD SAID

Sunrise, Edmonds WA September 2, 2013 Ruth Jewell
Sunrise, Edmonds WA
September 2, 2013
Ruth Jewell

I have been trying to make sense of the events of the last week. The deaths of two black men at the hands of the police, the Dallas Police targeted and killed, and the bombings in Iraq and Turkey. And, just today a new shooting in Michigan. My heart is filled with sadness and tears and I could only cry out to God “Where Are YOU.”

“God where were you . . .
when suicide bombers chose to end their lives and take the innocent with them?
Where were you when 29 men and woman
enjoying a night out were used as target practice?
Where are you when cops shoot people,
when people shoot people,
when cops are targeted,
When people die, the good and the bad?”

God where are you . . .
when we are filled with emptiness by shooting after shooting,
when bombings and assaults become common place?
Where are you when we turn the news on and
another child has died, another cop is killed,
another person of color, differing abilities, or characteristics is assaulted or killed?”

“Why Oh God do you not answer?”

God said “I am there . . .
Holding the bodies as they bleed,
I am there leading the survivors’ out of danger.
I am there, holding the victim’s family’s in my arms
I am there in the broken hearts of witnesses, law enforcement.”

“When the darkness is greatest
I will sit with you, and listen to your sorrows,
I will hold you in my arms when you are weary.”
All I can do is lead the dying home to my arms,
to comfort those left behind, if they let me.”

“When pain and grief grip you
I will be there to tell you everything will be alright.
When you scream into the night,
I will come and comfort you,
I will dry your tears, and wrap you in my embrace.”

“I will be there when you are weary and in pain,
I will be there to lift you up, and comfort you,
All you have to do is call”.

God said, “I cry when you do not hear my voice, and
I cannot stop you from harming each other,
that choice is yours alone.

“All I can do is encourage each of you to stand up for justice and mercy.
All I can do is hope your hearts will soften
and let the love I have for each of you awaken your love for each other.
All I can do is wait for you to choose the path of justice, mercy, love and peace
between your selves and all that is created.”

God says “I gave you the choice of right or wrong,
It is up to you to choose. I will not make that choice for you
nor will I force you to choose one path over another!”

“You asked for freedom, it is your responsibility to choose.
Choose to use that freedom wisely.”

Ruth Jewell ©, July 11, 2016

 

To Be a Blessing – Prayerful Tuesday

Be generous: invest in acts of charity.
Don’t hoard your goods; spread them around.
Be a blessing to others. This could be your last night.
— Ecclesiastes 11:1a, 2, The Message

Mom and Pippin, 1988 bMy Mother 1988
Steven F Austin St. Park, TX
©Ruth Jewell, 2016

A recent meditation had the following journal question “If you knew you were dying what would you write or say to your children or grandchildren?”  That question stopped me cold.  What would I say to grandson and granddaughter, Liam and Amelia?  How would I describe my love, and fears, for them?  How would I tell them of my life lived with my own loves, fears, and regrets? What would I say, what would you say?

During this Easter season I have been writing about the ways we express our feelings of the resurrection, and the many ways we witness to others our faith in the resurrection.  Sharing ourselves with the next generation is also a witness to our beliefs in the resurrection. The question above is an important one, challenging us to inspect our past and present lives and how that information could impact the lives that follow us.  I thought long and hard about what I would, will, say to my grandchildren and all of it wasn’t bright flowers and sunshine.

What might say, well I would of course tell them I love them very much, how grateful I am for having them in my life, and I will miss them.  I would ask for their forgiveness in my part for leaving them a world that is wounded and in pain, and a political system that doesn’t function.  I would tell them that no matter what they do in life their parents and I would always love them from wherever we are.  While their future is impacted by the world I leave behind it is still their future to make into what ever dream they reach for.  Following those dreams may not be easy, or always fun, but are worth the effort if they truly believe in them.  I would also tell them it is OK that they don’t believe in the Divine as I do, but, discovering their own pathway to something greater than themselves is important in finding their moral, loving, compassionate lives.  I would want them to stand up against injustice even when it is hard to do so, to see the good in people and all creation even when the night is darkest.  I want them to climb their most difficult mountains and to not be afraid of the challenges because I will be right there beside them cheering them on. I want my grandchildren to be fearless in the face adversity, to be strong when everyone else is weak, and to be gentle when touched by beauty.

What I want most for my beloved Liam and Amelia is to live a life that is not self-centered but other-centered. I want them to live a life that sees the best in the worst, the beauty in the ugly, and love in what is hatred.  I can’t leave them with much but when I make my final passage from this world to the next I want them to know I cared about them, and want them to be the best at whatever they want to be.

So that is some of what I would tell my grandchildren, what would be in your letter to your children?  We live in and uncertain world and we never know when our last day in this world will arrive.  We all too often leave too much unsaid to those we love the most.  So my journal question to you this week is: “If you knew you were dying what would you write or say to your children or grandchildren?”

May you find the words in your heart for those you leave behind.

Ruth Jewell, ©April 26, 2016

not what you say but what you do matters – Prayerful Tuesday

Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God,
serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.
–1 Peter 4:10

Ford Madox Brown, Jesus_washing_Peter's_feet, 1821-1893Jesus Washing Peters Feet
Ford Madox Brown, 1821-1893

My morning’s meditation topic was “service” and it started a train of thought (ok it was actually a brain worm but let’s not quibble) about how I “serve” others.  I must admit there are times when I am not very nice and I do it only because I have too or to prevent an argument.  I am quite good at rolling the old eyeballs in those instances.

But that is not what Jesus taught; the Gospel of Mark records Jesus saying “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35b) In fact all through scripture we are called to be God’s servants and, from my perspective, if we are all, humanity and creation, images, the manifestation of God in the world then it makes perfect sense that we are also servants of all we encounter, human or otherwise. To be a true witness of the resurrection is to serve, with joy, our fellow travelers on this planet.  That means caring for the earth and all that lives on it.  It means caring for those who cannot care for themselves, speaking up for those who have no voice and doing all with grace and with every ounce of our God given gifts. One of my favorite rituals is foot or hand washing.  To personally hold someone’s hand or foot in your hands, pouring the water over them, wrapping them in a towel and then look them in their eyes and tell them they are beloved by God gives me chills.

But rituals aside service means anything that places you in the position of servant.  Cleaning the home of an elderly friend or family member, mowing the lawn and weeding the garden when you know the owner can’t bend over anymore, creating a garden and sharing the harvest with neighbors or a shelter all are ways we may offer our service.  But there are even simpler ones that often get overlooked; such as picking someone up for an event, calling on the ill, taking out the garbage or keeping a room clean.  These are services that make life easier for others and, when done with joy, happiness in our own lives.

So this week I am challenging you to 1) notice when you do a simple act of service, and 2) if the opportunity comes up to offer your special gifts to others to give it a try.  When you do you are witnessing the resurrection in action and love blossoms.

Ruth Jewell, ©April 19, 2016

To Love is to be like God – Prayerful Tuesday

“And of His Signs is that He created mates for you from yourselves
that you might find peace of mind in them,
and He put between you love and compassion
al-Qur’an 30.21

beautiful-love-heart-on-sand-wallpaper, image Public domain
Public Domain Photo

With one silent laugh
You tilted the night
And the garden ran with stars.
– Jalal-ud-Din Rumi

To love someone, especially someone who doesn’t expect you to love them, may be the most important of the spiritual practices. Love is a grace of God given freely to all and as Oscar Hammerstein wrote “Love in your heart isn’t put there to stay. Love isn’t love till you give it away.” God put love in our hearts to be shared with all creation, not just humanity but animals, flowers, and yes, even rocks. To truly love is as close as we get to being the image of God.

This week share your love with a family member, a friend, an adversary, an enemy. Let the love in your heart out and be God’s image in the world.

Ruth Jewell, ©April 12, 2016