For some time I have been thinking about putting down a few notes on the awesome book of scripture, the Song of Songs (also called the Song of Solomon). I suppose there's no time like the present to begin. Each new entry will be successively numbered as I go, "Song of Songs 1, 2, 3, . . ."
It is very remarkable to me that in a previous age (prior to the rift known as the Reformation) this book was the subject of a great deal of commenting by Catholic spiritual writers. But in the modern/post modern era, there seems to be hardly a mention of it. Why has there been such a big shift from great interest and excitement, to silence? I don't know. But, I would speculate that it has something to do with the fact that as we walk further away from our Christian roots, the contemporary Western world has become increasingly unable to set the erotic or passionate aspects of human sexuality into a deeply meaningful and wholesome context--the context which almighty God gave human love from the beginning.
One possible option for devout Christians to face the potential dangers of sexual passion is to identify this passion with sin and so fearfully run from it, stuffing sexuality into a small dark box only to be opened reluctantly. Another avenue (which is closer to the heart of Catholicism) is to regard eros (the especially incendiary and passionate aspect of sexual desire) with respect and even some fear and trembling--but also with a sober confidence that the grace of God can strip away what is sinful, leaving behind an eros which is pure even as it is passionate.
It is in this light that I wish to embark upon making a few comments about the Song of Songs, in the confident awareness that with God's help even our most fiery passions--rather than being needful of eradication--can be transformed and elevated and thus made more akin to the fire of love that burns in the eternal kingdom. Love can be both aflame and undefiled.
I will not attempt a verse-by-verse commentary. I will proceed by sections as they seem manageable. Here is the first. I will refer to the female beloved as "maiden" and the male lover as "bridegroom." I may sometimes quote the Scriptures but I will not attempt to give all the verses in their entirety (in other words if you want to follow along please have your own Bible handy and open to the Song of Songs.) I will be referring primarily to the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) and secondarily to the Revised Standard Version (RSV). The number headings refer to verse numbers.
O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth! (RSV)
Who desires to be approached here? The maiden. Whose kisses seem to be given an initiating quality? The bridegroom's. Is the maiden thinking only in a kind of symbolic, figurative language? Not here at least. She desires real, physical kisses--the kisses "of your mouth."
for your love-making is sweeter than wine;
delicate is the fragrance of your perfume, your name is an oil poured out. (NJB)
There is a physical, tangible aspect to the love of the bridegroom. It is both sensible (e.g. "sweeter than wine") and tender. The love of the bridegroom is something that envelopes the maiden in a multitude of ways: it is present in the touch of lips (a kiss), in sweetness upon the tongue, in the alluring smell of a perfume, in the sound of the bridegroom's name as it enters the maiden's ears. It is like a valuable oil upon the skin. All the senses are taken up into love: touch, taste, smell, hearing (though sight is not yet mentioned).
The love of the maiden is specific to the unique person that is the bridegroom. It is his love, his alone, something he possesses in his individuality. The maiden says to him, it is "your" love, "your" perfume, "your" name.
The very name of the bridegroom, because it is that of her lover, is special to the maiden among all names.
The bridegroom's love is--as fine wine, delicate perfume, healthful anointing oil--something both tangible and refined.