“For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” (Sol. 2:13)
One of the first things that I learnt when I studied Christian Spirituality was that the idea that there is a spiritual and a secular world, God’s world and the rest of life, is entirely false. If God exists then all that is created is of God and loved and cherished by God. If we do not see this we are blind or asleep or haven’t made the connection. If all that is created is of God then everything that delights us physically is also of God and is given to us to bring us more deeply into the joy of our Creator Lord.
As we enter Easter Week, the daily readings designated by the Church at Morning Prayer include, “The Song of Solomon,” a book that has been highly misunderstood in modern times because it celebrates love, Eros, in all its fullness – which of course means physical love, too. Until the Reformation, “The Song of Solomon,” was considered one of the most important and profound books in the Bible. Such writers as the Venerable Bede, Gregory, and most famously, Bernard of Clairvaux, wrote commentaries on it. Meister Eckhart and St John of the Cross were hugely influenced by it. Why: because for the medieval person creation was an expression of the being of God – all is from God. God pours himself out in it. For these writers and thinkers the description of the love God had for his universe was most closely defined by the word “Eros” or erotic love. Eros is a force, the force or drive that animates all things and which comes from God. But in the Post-Reformation world we have cleaned up God and Christian society. We don’t talk about Eros, we don’t mention sex and so we miss the point the medieval commentators understood, that the “Song of Solomon” was thought to contain the central message of all scripture as the ultimate parable of God’s love for the Soul.
Perhaps part of our inherited fear about this book (inherited, I might say from the extreme prudishness of our Victorian forebears) is that it smacks of free love, but that is not to understand the story behind it. The story, put simply, comes from another Old Testament book, “Ecclesiastes”, and tells of the young king Solomon of Israel, who dressed up as a shepherd boy so that he might go about his kingdom incognito. He meets and falls in love with a simply country girl and she with him, not knowing who he is. They promise themselves to each other. He has to return to his responsibilities and she weeps for him, but one day he visits her part of the country and calls for her attendance on him. She, still not knowing who he is, goes to meet him and finds her beloved. They are married and it is in the profundity of their committed relationship to each other that they realise the full beauty of their love on all levels. It is this that is described in “The Song of Solomon.”
But of course we have not heard the deepest message of this song until we pass behind the description of this purely physical human love, perfect as it is, to read it as an expression of communion between a human being and God, between Christ and his church. And that is why it is given to us to meditate on in this Easter Week. Like the couple in the story in “Ecclesiastes” we have wandered throughout this world to find something, someone, bigger than ourselves to trust and fall in love with. We have seen it in God’s love for us expressed through the Cross and Resurrection and now we long to respond.
Someone has well said, “If you love Jesus Christ, you will love this song because here are words that fully express the rapture of the heart that has fallen in love with Christ.”