Aimee Byrd

Inside the word. Outside the box.

Dream, if you can, a courtyard
An ocean of violets in bloom
Animals strike curious poses
They feel the heat
The heat between me and you

Perhaps these lyrics in Prince’s popular song accidentally describe what we see in the best song of all, the Song of Songs. In it, we see the lushness of the garden scenes highlighting the “lushness of sexual exclusivity.”[1] The animals in the Song seem to metaphorically participate in the meaningful, erotic, intimacy between these lovers. Nature, wildlife, and even we as the readers feel the heat.

The intimacy of the love between the man and the woman in the Song can be taken at a plain sense reading, teaching us about the goodness of marriage and even sexual union within it. This is how we most naturally can identify with its language. And yet, it also points to something quite astounding—the spousal love of God for his people. Christopher West elaborates:

The Song of Songs takes us to the very heart of Christian faith. And that heart is this: we can enter into nuptial union with God, our deepest aspiration. The erotic love poetry of the Song of Songs gives us entrance to the wedding feast that never ends. It transports heaven’s love song into an earthly key, enabling us to hit the notes, so to speak.[2]

OUR BODIES TELL GOD’S STORY, 122

The Song of Songs, like the holy of holies, sings us into the presence of God. The bride speaks of the heat: “Love’s flames are fiery flames—an almighty flame!” (SoS 8:6c). Richard Davidson notes how fire is associated with God’s presence in Scripture,[3] and the Song teaches us that “‘coming into love is like coming into God’s presence.’”[4]

The Groom in the Song continually refers to his Bride as a dove, particularly that she has dove’s eyes (SoS 1:15, 1:14, 4:1, 5:2). We read and we remember that it was the dove that brought the olive leaf back to Noah (Gen. 8:11) and that the Holy Spirit is represented as the dove during Jesus’s baptism (John 1:32). When Christ sees his bride, he sees his own Spirit. He is present with her.

While reminding us of our Groom’s nearness, the Song also gives testimony to the times where it doesn’t seem so. The Song enfleshes the metanarrative of Scripture, reminding us of God’s covenant relationship with Israel, including her unfaithfulness. And it bids us now to see Christ as lover of his bride, the church, as we wait in the tension of the already of his betrothal and the not yet of its consummation. It is the Song given to us in the night and it’s in one of its night scenes where I want to go today. In my study of the Song, I’m continually finding new surprises in its many allusions and intertextual references. It’s like treasure hunting. We find an allusion in one of the most painful verses in the Song. We hear the dove’s cry when she is searching for the one whom her soul loves:

“The guards who go about the city found me. They beat and wounded me; they took my cloak from me—the guardians of the walls.”

SOS 5:7

This is shortly after the wedding scene in which we are given a peek into their rapturous, consummate satisfaction in lovemaking. The narrator, Yahweh himself, gives the marital blessing: “Eat, friends! Drink, be intoxicated with caresses!” (SoS 5:1 e,f). While I don’t find the Song to be a linear piece, I’m still bothered that it seems to have moved backwards here in this night scene. This is what it sounds like when doves cry. She is lovesick and beaten down. Her lover seems nowhere to be found. The Groom who was just praising her, using the very language of sacred space in describing her body with delight, seems to have turned his face from her. How can this be in the Song of Songs?

But perhaps this cry also gives us hope with its literary allusion—is she echoing from Isaiah in this verse to remind us of the whole story?

“For the LORD has called you, like a wife deserted and wounded in spirit, a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected, says your God. ‘I have deserted you for a brief moment, but I will take you back with abundant compassion.’”

ISAIAH 54:6-7

As Davis puts it, “The Song of Songs answers that tragic history, stretching all the way back to Eden.”[5] This is a comfort to us now, as we are reminded of the abundant compassion of our God. We are loved by God in Christ. We are joined to the Spirit. We need this recalibration when we too are gripped by pain, suffering, or sin. We call out to our Groom. And we remember that he has taken all of this on himself. As Pope John Paul II beautifully states it in his Mulieris Dignitatem:

Christ is the Bridegroom because “he has given himself”: his body has been “given”, his blood has been “poured out” (cf. Lk 22:19-20). In this way “he loved them to the end” (Jn 13:1). The “sincere gift” contained in the Sacrifice of the Cross gives definitive prominence to the spousal meaning of God’s love. As the Redeemer of the world, Christ is the Bridegroom of the Church.[6]

POPE JOHN PAUL II

And we know where to find him. The Song reminds us. When the daughters of Jerusalem ask the bride where her love has gone, she knows the answer: “My love has gone down to his garden, to beds of spice, to feed in the gardens and gather lilies. I am my love’s and my love is mine; he feeds among the lilies” (SoS 6:2-3). Where is that? Charles Spurgeon rejoices:

Now, where is Jesus? What are these lilies? Do not these lilies represent the pure in heart, with whom Jesus dwells? The spouse used the imagery which her Lord had put into her mouth. He said “As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters,” and she appropriates the symbol to all the saints.[7]

CHARLES SPURGEON

He is with his people all along. The Song doesn’t only stretch back to Eden, it takes us to the new heavenly garden city. The bride doesn’t stay down. She finds her Groom and clings to him. Christ is getting us ready. Things are not as they seem.  to behold his bride is to behold “the holy city of Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2). In the words of Prince, dig, if you will, that picture.


[1] Ellen F. Davis, Proverbs, Eccesiastes, and the Song of Songs (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), 235.

[2] West, Our Bodies, 122.

[3] Richard M. Davidson, Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2007), 628. For example, Gen. 3:24, 15:17; Exod. 3:2, 13:21, 40:38; Num. 9:15)

[4] Ibid., quoting from George M. Schwab, The Song of Songs’ Cautionary Message concerning Human Love (NY: Peter Lang Inc., 2002), 63.

[5] Davis, Song of Songs, 234.

[6] John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem, Apostolic Letter, August 15, 1988, http://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/1988/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_19880815_.html

[7] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, sermon, “A Song Among the Lilies (SS 2:16)” in Charles Spurgeon on the Song of Solomon: 64 Sermons to Ignite a Passion for Jesus! Kindle Edition (Christian Classics Treasury, 2013), loc. 5110.

7 thoughts on “When Doves Cry

  1. Graham Veale says:

    Thank you for this Aimee
    I have found these posts helpful.
    I take the description of erotic love as analogy, not an allegory, for human/divine love.
    There are certain properties the two loves share in common; but it is difficult to specify those properties exactly, or to state the degree of overlap precisely.
    I think it is also helpful to remind ourselves that there is an eschatological perspective to the Song. Romantic and erotic love point beyond themselves. These loves are merely hints and symbols. They are, at best, forerunners for *what is to come*: the fullness of divine love, and the total love of neighbour, experienced in God’s Kingdom in the New Creation. (We do not seek Platonic love).
    It might also be helpful to note that not one jot of this can be read off natural law. Without revelation, the place of erotic/romantic love in God’s design is obscure. Reflection on nature might well confirm what revelation teaches. But that is not quite a Natural Law account of ethics.

    Graham

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    1. Aimee Byrd says:

      Yes, the Song is eschatological! It enfleshes the metanarrative of Scripture and reveals the proper orientation and satisfaction of desire. Thanks for your comment, Graham.

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  2. Love is so sweet in sickness (and in health).

    Great that all this widow (me) has to look forward to in Heaven and glad that Dr. Patterson and I could share brief time together last year even in the hospital at night with me on a recliner.

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    1. MJohnston says:

      My heart is with you Sister. My husband and I are learning our way through his disability that makes it difficult to find comfort in proximity right now.
      There is joy in looking forward to a Heaven in which we are unencumbered, but going through the grief in the here and now is hard, for sure.

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  3. Cynthia W. says:

    Very interesting reflection.

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  4. annaandbrent says:

    As Aimee and others have written elsewhere, we reach the consummation of the New Covenant in Revelation 19-21, only to have Him direct our gaze back to the Song of Songs. There we see love consummated on the Mountain of the Lord. As Aimee wrote at Easter, it is why Mary Magdalene is denied clinging in the garden of death. His love, our love, stronger than death, will be consummated with and among the lilies, “the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” We are one bride . . . beloved, desired, drawn onward and upward to what He has prepared for those that love Him.

    Graham, when I think about the Song, I remember the distance between the sacraments of the Old Covenant and the New, the New “held forth with more fulness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy.” I imagine that distance between the signs of the Old and New is like, but far less than the distance between the human love of the Song and its fulfillment in the city of our inheritance. The glorious love on display between the Shepherd and Shulamite of the Song is mere type and shadow, as we wait for a fulness that is beyond imagination. I don’t try to picture the details of that Clinging of clingings, of the Ages of ages, in the eternal Holy of Holies, but rather let my heart swell in anticipation of the glorious unknown.

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    1. Graham Veale says:

      Thanks Anna,
      That is helpful
      Graham

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