Aimee Byrd

Inside the word. Outside the box.

Photo by Nestor Varela on Pexels.com

Earlier, I posted Part 1 of What We Really Want, which is eros love. If you haven’t read that, it makes more sense to begin read that first. You can find it here. Now, I will continue with a meditation on Song of Songs 1: 2-4.

Oh, that he would…

The first voice in the Song is that of the woman’s. Pause for a moment and think about this. In a patriarchal world, within the canon of Scripture, the Divine Author gives us the initiating voice of the woman for us to learn from and identify with. Gregory of Nyssa refers to her as “the teacher.”[1]  Here in the opening, she is talking to us. And she begins with desire. “Oh that he would…” She’s talking to us. God wants us to freely ask for what we want. And as we learn from the bride, he wants us to develop that want—to dig deep down and find it. Tell it to others. It’s an evangelical want. Nothing to be ashamed of. It’s what we all really want. We want the kisses of his mouth. Isn’t it interesting that the bride says, of his mouth? Where else would kisses come from? Why add the obvious?

Some commentators in the early church have made some interesting sense of this, both historically and spiritually speaking. Honorius of Autun is one, saying,

God kissed the Bride as it were by someone else’s mouth, when formerly “In many and various ways” he spoke “to our fathers by the prophets (Heb. 1:1). He kissed her, so to speak, by his own mouth when “in these last days he spoke to them in the Son” (Heb.1:2), saying “Peace be with you” (John 20:19).[2]

He explains that it is the mouth of the Son, “the Word of the Father,” that brings us the kiss of peace.[3] It is in this peace that we are seen and secure, free to give of ourselves and receive the Son as gift in his union with us. And yet, there is an already and not yet—we have a taste of these kisses. But we still do not have that consummated fellowship with him in our glorification. Christ has given so much, but still we want more. We want the kisses of his mouth. We want up close loving. PDA.[4] Not just one kiss. Think about the best kiss you’ve had. It isn’t an ender, it’s a beginning. You hope, anyway. Audrey Hepburn is attributed, but undocumented, for saying, “I believe in kissing, kissing a lot.” Can I get an amen?! Don’t you see it? We want the kisses of his mouth. We want PDA, open intimacy. And a lot of it.

Kissing is where it’s at. If you stop kissing in your marriage, you need to think about how that can be a warning sign—intimacy has left the household. And fun. Survival mode is taking over. The union is becoming utilitarian. When spouses hear of an affair, maybe a one-night stand, one of the most painful questions or thoughts relates to them kissing someone else—even over the act of sex. Kissing is playful and intimate. So much is communicated in a kiss that words cannot do. I believe that singles struggle more from a lack of kissing than sex—especially in our culture where kissing and sex are so linked that most all kissing is sexual. Can we say that we long for kisses—singles, marrieds who do not experience this intimacy, and even those who do and therefore have a crumb from the table to ponder the source it analogues? Can we say that we long for the kisses of his mouth?

The Lips of Jesus

Kissing is all the above here in the Song—playful, intimate, and erotic. She wants his kisses. Not just one will do. The kisses of his mouth. Oh, the lips of Jesus! Grace flows from his lips (Ps. 45:2). And they are “lilies, dripping with flowing myrrh” (Song 5:13). The bride doesn’t waste a word with her imageries and metaphors. Earlier in the Song, we see that she is a lily. She calls herself a “lily of the valleys” (Song 2:1) and the man responds saying she is “a lily among thorns” (Song 2:2). The royal wedding Psalm that I just quoted from begins with the Introduction, “For the choir director: according to “The Lilies…a love song” (Ps. 45). As Havilah Dharamraj notes, Israel self-identified “as a ‘lily’ and a ‘dove,’ both familiar images in the Song.” She references 4 Ezra 5:23-26, “dated to the end of the first century CE,” as the first documentation of this.[5] Lilies are a metaphor for the church. In one of the searching scenes, the bride shows that she knew where to find her lover: “My love has gone down to his garden, to beds of spice, to feed in the gardens and gather lilies. I am my lover’s and my lover is mine; he feeds among the lilies” (Song 6:2-3). He is with his people, his bride. He feeds among the lilies. So when she says that his lips are lilies, she is practically saying that we are on his lips! And they are dripping with myrrh, a perfume of the Temple.[6]

Let’s just pause and think about the intimate eros in this statement. The Shulammite talks about the lips of her lover in a way that can only be expressed through vivid and sensuous poetic images. This text is not only sharing information; it’s doing something to us as we read it. It is practically putting us right smack on the lips of Christ! Doesn’t it create a longing within you to be on those lips? To participate in this kind of beautiful eros? All of our senses are drawn into it: seeing the lilies, smelling them, feeling and smelling dripping myrrh, tasting his lips. The bride gets what she wants—his lips are lilies. They are hers. They are ours.

In Our Prayers

When you don’t know what to pray for, take a que from the bride. Pray for the kisses of his mouth. You see, too often we get erotic love all wrong. The messages we see all around us are actually anti-erotica—selfish consumption and lust. This is an evil counterfeit. As Christopher West explains, it is “a failure to see the body as it truly is: as a sign that points beyond itself to God. When this happens, our desire for Infinite Beauty (eros) gets ‘stuck’ on the body itself. The icon becomes an idol, and we come to worship the creature rather than the Creator. This, is what Paul tells us in Romans 1, is what lust is.”[7] We think eros is about taking—think about how perverted that is! That is lust. And it will never satisfy. How can such a diabolical orientation satisfy us? We were not created to be so selfish. It’s a nasty trick that enslaves us! West calls us to know true eros so that we can “reclaim what Satan has plagiarized.”[8] 

Do you see what the trick is? This disorientation of our desires moves us away from the spousal love of God. Erotic love is completely self-giving. We are being tricked into thinking that our bodies aren’t meaningful and good, or signifiers of God’s love. This completely changes how we view and treat one another. Christ gave himself for his bride; he loves her to the end (John 13:1). Don’t fall for the counterfeit. God is preparing our souls for love. We want the good stuff—the real deal. The man and the woman in the Song mutually give themselves to one another and are a delight to one another. The whole Song is poetry of delight in one another’s presence and longing when separated. It’s dripping with anticipatory language and all of nature seems to be participating. This Song draws us in and the bride helps us see and express what we really want—the exclusive, eros love of God that overflows for his bride. Pray for the kisses of his mouth because Jesus is not stingy in giving them.

Preparing our Souls for Love

And as we anticipate the eschatological culmination of eros with our Groom, our exclusive love for him will show forth in our relationships now. He uses our circumstances—single, married, divorced, or widowed—to model and prepare us for this love. It can be costly. We see that the bride struggles with unmet desires at times, as she is searching for her Groom. We see that she is oppressed by her brothers, misunderstood and mocked by the young women, and abused by the ones in authority. She doesn’t take her eyes off the Groom. He is worth it. And it is all preparing her.

West makes the remarkable claim that “the salvation of the world begins with the salvation of eros.” Isn’t that powerful? The last word really is love. He says:

And precisely because the relationship of man and woman is the deepest foundation of ethics and culture, when eros is misdirected, it leads to the “whole moral disorder that deforms both sexual life and the functioning of social, economic and even cultural life.” Christ wants to save each human person and all of humanity at its roots, and our roots are inextricably linked with eros.[9]

If you want to begin to get a picture of this, keep reading the Song. Get it in your bones. It’s the whole reason why it’s a song! In it, we see that eros isn’t to be a baser instinct; it is true love in action. It’s the only way love can be genuine. And it undergirds our love for others. Reading the Song draws out what we really want and helps encourage us not to settle for anything less. Then we will be driven to do the soul-work that we need on the way there. We are already participating in it, already directed toward the kisses of his mouth. So, like the bride, we need to help other disciples understand this want. We speak it. When we join in this salvific eros love, we enjoy his metaphorical kisses together as we direct one another to them in times of loneliness, struggling, pain, or in the pleasures of celebration and communion now.

We don’t have to lose ourselves—as we give of ourselves and invite others into our freedom in belonging to the exclusive love of God, we get to know our own selves and others better. We create beauty together and become more me and more than me. This can be hard work. God will show us things about ourselves that we’ve labored to cover up. But he has already set us free from the enslavement of sin—we don’t have to hold onto it anymore. We never did! We see it as it is: counterfeit—taking our eyes off of true eros. And like the bride, we can move on from the sting of others’ sin against us.  We get to discover the beauty of the fruit of sorrow over sin and repentance before God and one another. He doesn’t want us to miss out on the joy in loving one another with the love of Christ! He wants to give us the good stuff! We get to get in behind the veil, into his chambers. We will get what we really want.


[1] Richard. A. Norris Jr., trans., Gregory of Nyssa: Homilies on the Song of Songs, ed. Brian E. Daley, S. J., and John T. Fitzgerald (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2012), 51, and its footnote by Norris, “I.e., the Bride, who in Gregory’s exegesis of the Song regularly appears in the role of a mistress to her apprentices.”

[2] Honorius of Autun in Richard A. Norris Jr., trans. and ed., The Song of Songs: Interpreted by Early Christian and Medieval Commentators, The Church’s Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, paperback edition 2019), 24.

[3] Honorius of Autun in Norris, Song, 24.

[4] Public Display of Affection

[5] Havilah Dharamraj, Altogether Lovely: A Thematic and Intertextual Reading of the Song of Songs (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2018), 2-3. She footnotes 4 Ezra 5:23-26: “‘My Lord, my Master,’ I said, ‘out of all the forests of the earth, and all their trees, you have chosen one vine; from all the lands in the whole world you have chosen one plot; and out of all the flowers in the whole world you have chosen one lily. From all the depths of the sea you have filled one stream for yourself, and of all the cities every built you have set Zion apart as your own. From all the birds that were created you have named one dove, and from all the animals that were fashioned you have taken one sheep.’” Translated by Jeremy Knapp, https//tinyurl.com/ycs6yrfe.

[6] See Davis, Song of Songs, 265. Myrrh was a primary ingredient in holy anointing oil.

[7] Christopher West, Our Bodies Tell God’s Story: Discovering the Divine Plan for Love, Sex, and Gender (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos, 2020), 42, emphasis original.

[8] West, Our Bodies, 88.

[9] West, Our Bodies, 43, quoting from TOB, 48:1.

6 thoughts on “Freedom to Ask for What We Want: Part 2

  1. Doug Beattie says:

    What I really want is to read your book on The Song. Superb writing. These two short pieces alone filled me with longing for the arrival of The Groom. Thank you Aimee!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aimee Byrd says:

      Thank you, I’m thinking of doing another book on mediations on the Song like this.

      Like

  2. Cynthia W. says:

    One reason I love Jesus more than anyone is that he doesn’t want to use me or anyone else to gratify his genital urge. I really struggle with this kind of writing, because it’s like putting sexual exploitation all over my relationship with Jesus. Then there’s nobody left anywhere, and I might as well throw in with Athena.

    Like

    1. Bill says:

      Cynthia,
      I hear your wounding. I’m wounded, too. for a long time…
      read something yesterday, listened to a podcast, both helped. spoke to the wound you speak to. Allender center web site podcast. and ‘wounded heart’.
      very grace centered paradigm from a counselor my own age (year older, actually).
      been a long time I’ve looked for healing. Ran across Aimee’s book on friendship. helped me get free from the ‘authoritarianism’ that is so wrong and so much a part of any abuse-which is all spiritual abuse at the core.

      hope you find what helps you…not an easy path to walk, but we have a Shepherd who cares.

      Bill

      Like

      1. Cynthia W. says:

        Thank you, Bill. I have really enjoyed Aimee’s books up to this point and found them very edifying, but I’m having a lot of difficulty with the current subject matter. It seems like there’s a conflict between this material and the premise of “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” which was that, in the household of God, love is Agape, divine love, or storge, family love, or phileo, sibling love, but NOT eros, sexually consuming, self-gratifying love.

        It may be just the thing for some people, though: we’re all the product of our own experiences.

        Like

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