Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Erotic Divine (Song of Songs 7:3-7

Even your feet are lovely, dancing in their sandals, like a ruler’s daughter.
   Your graceful legs are precious jewels, worked by the greatest craftsman of all .
Ah, and your navel is a chalice that I will drink sweetened wine from!
   Your belly is golden, like wheat, and scented of lilies.
Your breasts are the twin fawns of a gazelle,
   and you neck graceful as David’s ivory Tower.                
But your eyes! Looking into them is like looking into those pools of Heshbon, outside the gates of Beth Rabbim.
   And your nose is a delicate as those towers in Lebanon that face out toward Damascus.
Mount Carmel itself is no more elegant than you head,
   with its hair, weaving a tapestry that would ensnare the proudest man.
Oh, my pretty one, what a delight you are to look on, with all of your love-charms!
Song of Songs 7:3-7

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This is the voice of the Lover. This is he/she who our audacious sister has sought after. This is the one who the Daughters of Jerusalem cheered for. This is the one who the Guards were jealous of.

It is with the Lover that I find myself at odds with most modern commentators on the Song – whether conservative, moderate, or liberal. Modern interpreters, in order to counter abuse of this biblical book, have removed God as the subject, the Lover. On the one hand I applaud this move and the rediscovery of human eroticism as a gift celebrated in scripture.

On the other hand there are passages which, once God is removed as the subject, make no sense through the lens of human relations. Two key passages for me are 2:8-13 which portray a creation event, and 3:6-11 which allude to Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness and the construction of the Jerusalem Temple (also see 1:5 which mentions the curtains in the Temple).

Due to these references I personally read the Song on two levels. One level is about the love between a human beloved and a human lover. The other level is about the human beloved and the Divine Lover. I have found this second level a hard sale in today’s culture. While earlier christians and jews had no problem locating the erotic in the Divine, contemporary believers – even queers – find this a stumbling block. Instead of raising up eros as God’s primary movement toward us, we have raised up a rather sanitary agape love.

Agape love has become understood as God’s objective, non-judgmental love for us. Notice how sterile God is. Objective – God is removed from us, at a distance, not involved. Non-judgmental – there is no passion, no desire, just a neutral type of love exerting its influence much as gravity exerts its influence regardless of the consequences. We moderns like this God – distant and a bit cold, yes, but at least this God will not challenge us or confront us. This God is very predictable and we like the predictable.

Now imagine, if the erotic, the great burning and wholly unpredictable energies of embodied love and lust mark God’s actions toward us. A Divine Lover is impulsive, playing coy, here one day and the object of our searching the next. A Divine Lover is volatile embracing us with complete acceptance, yet holding us to strict standards. A Divine Lover is fickle, picky, nitpicky, and fussy much like the leather Jesus above. Little wonder we moderns have raised agape over eros to construct a slightly safer – though less inspiring – God.

Yet, the ultimate risk of locating the erotic in the heart of the Divine is that God can be acted on by creation. Agape keeps God safely removed from creaturely influence. Eros has lovers shaping one another in the midst of the relationship. The crux of being in love is that “Neither lover constructs the other without being affected themselves – without becoming part of the story or entering the picture"(J. Cheryl Exum, Song of Songs, A Commentary). Here’s the God who dances with us, who makes for us the nuptial bed, who consummates a relationship with us, leaving us pregnant with possibilities even as we have left our lover wanting more. This is the Lover of the Song – the great Erotic Divine. Let us be thankful.

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