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A Mediation on Song of Songs 2:8-14

Sometimes Christianity doesn’t seem real. We can say something profound about it like, God is preparing our souls for love. But it doesn’t feel like it most of the time. It feels like I am a mediocre friend, at best, and that I am not doing enough for the church. Or for my family. I look at my young adult daughters and son and think I haven’t taught them or shown them enough about the wonder of who God is and his love for us and focused too much on how Christians behave. I catch myself being critical of my husband. I miss him when he’s not with me, and then I pick at him when he is. That’s not loving. And it feels like I’m always failing in my prayer life.

Not good enough. That seems like real life sometimes. A lot of the time.

I know all the right things to speak into this. Because I really am a Christian. But we each have the winters of our souls to deal with. What I just shared is both embarrassing and dismal. But it is not the worst of my winters. This is the polished confession version.

At this point in the Song of Songs, the woman just adjured us not to stir up or awaken love until the proper time. Sometimes we try too hard to force things, and others we are just dreary and languishing in winter. Our senses are dulled. There’s no grass or blooms to smell. We don’t hear the birds singing or the voice of children playing outside. We don’t feel the sun on our skin. Everything we taste is canned or imported. Likewise, the promises of God can seem so far off or disconnected from real life. They sound great, but right now you are trying to finish your education and start your career before your car breaks down again. Or maybe you are too overwhelmed by the loss of a relationship to sense anything hopeful. Whether we are caring for loved ones, aching in loneliness, coping and fighting an illness, just slogging through the mundanity of everyday stresses, or striving to make a record of all our accomplishments and “living” on social media, real life can rob us of our curiosity and imaginations.

But what if it is exactly our curiosity and imaginations that need to be awakened to see and sense real life? Here is something curious: the woman gives this adjuration not to stir up love or awaken it until the proper time three times in the Song, and each occasion it is immediately followed with a change of scenery, awakening, and rising up! What if we need reminding to listen and look because spring is rolling in? Here comes the sun!

Listen! My love is approaching.

Look! Here he comes,

leaping over the mountains,

bounding over the hills.

My love is like a gazelle

or a young stag.

See, he is standing

behind our wall,

gazing through the windows,

peering through the lattice. (Song 2:8-9)

We begin with exclamations to listen and look. It is a call to awakening! We’ve got seven participles here describing her love. He is approaching, coming, leaping, bounding, standing, gazing, and peering. This is one active lover! We can positively say that he is awakening love. In the perfect, complete number seven of ways. No mountain or hill will deter him. She compares her love to a gazelle—better yet, a young stag. She was languishing in lovesickness and the whole scenery changes to answer that call. He is coming for her!

And yet, it’s interesting as she first depicts this man as leaping and bounding to get to her, and then it seems as he gets closer his demeaner changes to standing, gazing, and peering. Virility gives way to tenderness in her presence. And he pleads with her. He tells her about real life.

My love calls to me:

Arise, my darling.

Come away, my beautiful one.

For now the winter is past; the rain has ended and gone away.

The blossoms appear

in the countryside.

The time of singing has come,

and the turtledove’s cooing is heard

in our land.

The fig tree ripens its figs;

the blossoming vines give off

their fragrance.

Arise, my darling.

Come away, my beautiful one. (Song 2:10-14)

Where do we begin? He has a lot to say! This young stag is gentle with her as he beckons the woman to arise and come away with him, bookending his invitation with these words. Let’s look at how he does this and what it tells us about real life.

What He Calls Her

My. These two letters put together convey a personal, exclusive belonging. She says it too, “My love is approaching…My love is like a gazelle…My love calls to me.” And he just loves to call her “my darling.” This is the fourth and fifth time he will address her with this endearment, darling. The other instance this term is used in Scripture is in Judges 11:37, when Jephthah’s daughter asks to weep with her friends in the mountains for two months before facing her fate. Her darlings, the ones who will wander and weep with her. The ones who will arise and enter into real life with her. “My friends.” Arise, my darling.

Darling is translated from a Hebrew word that particularly refers to a female companion. But his darling is more than representative of all that is female. He calls her “my beautiful one.” She is his beautiful one, his gift, and now he is going to reveal to her that spring and all its beauty is here. The winter is past. Do you see it?  As I am writing this, it is raining. It’s the end of the first week in April, which means we have experienced a taste of spring. The birds are carousing, singing spring into action. The hyacinths, cherry blossoms, and daffodils are blooming. We had a small stretch of warm days in the 70’s, leading us to shop for the new spring fashions and want to pack away all the winter coats. And then it dipped back into the 30’s and 40’s again for a week. For the last week and a half, we’ve sat outside to watch our high school son’s tennis matches in the low 50’s—on the days it wasn’t raining. It’s raining today. The sun isn’t shining on us now. But we hear it’s coming after the weekend. Springtime in Maryland. It’s up and down. Kind of how we think about real life. Beauty is coming, though. Today, I long to hear that the rain has ended and gone away.

She’s also his dove (v. 14). There’s that reminder that his Spirit is within her. Don’t forget. This is why he can call her “my.” This man and woman picture a unitive love of Christ and his people. He’s already spoken all three of these endearments to her earlier. They seem to build in meaning as he addresses her here: my darling, my beautiful one, my dove. The Bridegroom recognizes her, and us, as his gift from the Father to the Son in eternity. We get to covenantally participate in the Father’s great love for the Son in the Spirit. And the glory of the triune God is manifest in this. This is real life.

Awakening

The man is awakening love. He invites her into the beauty of spring, beckoning her to action. Stir it up! It’s time. “Arise,” he says. “Come away,” he says. And then he describes spring in bloom because it is their love that is in bloom. Nature tells the story. Can you see the blossoms appearing on the countryside? Can you hear the turtledoves cooing in our land? Can you taste the ripening figs? Can you smell the fragrance of the blossoming vines? All of our senses are aroused with this invitation, giving us the sense that her very arising is part of this springtime. He wants to see her, to hear her, to taste her, to smell her. It’s their land, their love to share together. And he is awakening her to see it.

This language evokes God’s promise to Israel of restoration. It’s the language of Zion. There are multiple echoes with the Song in Isaiah 35, and we see several in verse 2, “[The land] will blossom abundantly and will also rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon, the splendor of our God.” We see echoes of abundant blossoming and singing. Later in the Song, we see more echoes regarding Lebanon, which is temple language, and splendor. Maybe you also recognize that earlier in the Song, the woman identified herself as a wildflower of Sharon (2:1). Her splendor is his splendor. And all this blossoming, singing, springtime language in our verses remind us of God’s promises to restore the land, restore his people.

You see, this is a gospel invitation. Christopher Mitchell notes how the Revised Common Lectionary that multiple Protestant denominations use pairs the reading of Song 2:8-13, known as Solomon’s marriage invitation to the Shulammite, with Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30, Christ’s invitation, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).[1] He suggests that this juxtaposition of texts has us read these invitations as parallel.[2] Come away is and invitation to come to the true man of rest, the true Solomon. The gospel call is a marriage invitation. And it’s an invitation to be “co-heirs of the promised land and fellow members of Israel, the people of God.”[3] “In our land.” This is how he sees her. How can we not be awakened to that?

Waiting on Her Word

And yet, the man doesn’t do all the talking. That’s so apparent in this whole Song, opened and closed with the woman’s voice which is dominant throughout. We have a God who listens. More than that, he draws us out of ourselves. He beckons our voice. Because it takes two voices to be co-heirs. Can you even believe it? This is real life!

My dove, in the clefts of the rock,

in the crevices of the cliff,

let me see your face,

let me hear your voice;

for your voice is sweet,

and your face is lovely. (Song 2:14)

These are some of my favorite verses in the Song. He is so tender with her. And it reminds me of another invitation to rest in Scripture. Remember the conversation between Moses and the LORD when Moses expresses insecurity in his promises to him (Ex. 33:12-23)? They didn’t match what Moses saw in real life. He tells the LORD that while he told him to lead his people up, he hasn’t said whom he would send with him. He told Moses that he found favor with him, yet he hasn’t yet taught him his ways. The LORD replied, “‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest’” (Exod. 33:14). Moses doesn’t want to go anywhere without the presence of the LORD. And he has a bold ask: “‘Please, let me see your glory’” (18). The LORD is gracious to give him a glimpse of himself but tells Moses that he cannot see his face. It’s for his own sake at that time, “‘for humans cannot see me and live’” (20). So where does he put Moses? In the crevice of the rock, so he is protected. He is able to see the LORD’s back as he passes by (20-23). It was glorious.

Now it seems we get a picture of the appropriate time to fully awaken love. Here is the Messiah, calling to his dove in the clefts of the rock, the crevices of the cliff, inviting us to see his glory. He is the one asking, Let me see your face. Do you see that? It’s an invitation to see his face with our face, and live! Because of Jesus. It’s an invitation into his presence, which will go with us and give us rest. We don’t have to look at the back anymore, we can see from the front. Real life was too much for us before, but we can look now! He will show us his ways.

We have so much trouble seeing what’s real. Here’s what’s real: your voice is sweet and your face is lovely. He pleads, let me see it, let me hear it. How absolutely amazing is this?! The Bridegroom doesn’t just come for his bride and take her because he is a mighty stag or gazelle and so she’s his for the taking. He speaks reality, paints the picture, evokes all her senses, woos, coaxes, and sparks her memory with all these echoes of his promises, so that she knows it’s him. He’s the One. And therefore, he would never just take. He waits for her voice. He gives.

This all reminds me of a Malcom Guite poem. This one is about the annunciation. He too speaks of what we miss in reality, what we don’t or won’t or can’t see. And he writes about a similar moment, when the angel announces the good news to Mary—and waits for her voice:

We see so little, stayed on surfaces,

We calculate the outsides of all things,

Preoccupied with our own purposes

We miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings,

They coruscate around us in their joy

A swirl of wheels and eyes and wings unfurled,

They guard the good we purpose to destroy,

A hidden blaze of glory in God’s world.

But on this day a young girl stopped to see

With open eyes and heart. She heard the voice;

The promise of His glory yet to be,

As time stood still for her to make a choice;

Gabriel knelt and not a feather stirred,

The Word himself was waiting on her word.[4]

I don’t know about you, but this blows my mind. Read it again. And again.

Sure, this is Mary. We are no Mary. This is her moment. She was special. So very, freaking special. So. Are. We. So are we! I could write many things about this poem. I’ll pick just a few: If only I were brilliant enough to have the word coruscate ready to whip out. The outside of things. And waiting on her word.

The first is quite brief. Coruscate. That’s one of the things that makes Guite a master-poet. He wakes us up with a word that makes us stumble a bit because we don’t use it in regular conversation. Well, us regular people don’t. And this isn’t a regular moment. The angel’s wings spread flashes of light and splendor in their joy. I never thought of angel’s wings as being full of joy. It makes total sense though.

I don’t think of it because I’m usually just looking at the outside of things. I think of real life as the surfaces before me. I get all caught up in the drama of the day, the tasks before me, and miss the glory of real life, the glory God is working all around us. The spring that is blossoming even now. I’m usually on the other side of the lattice. Every now and then I get a glimpse of the Lord’s back when he passes by.

But he calls us. He reminds us of spring. And he not only comes to us. He says, my dove. He’s already within us, the Lord’s presence is with us as he is directing us and transforming us for glory. And still, he waits for our voice as he bids us to speak. Yes, Mary was favored, special. Like Moses. She was also a young girl—and he waited on her word! We too, are favored. The bride of Christ! Does it get more favored than that?

What did Mary speak? “‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ said Mary. ‘May it be done to me according to your word’” (Luke 1:38). Her consent must have coruscated with the angels’ wings, reverberating to heaven, her whole body filled with that joy. Jesus bids us to use our voices to testify about him. Was it not Mary’s testimony about this moment that made it into Luke’s gospel? How did Luke know these details? He said, “let me hear your voice.” And she said it again.

Preparing Our Souls for Love

But on this day a young girl stopped to see

With open eyes and heart. She heard the voice…

Gregory of Nyssa referred to the bride in the Song as the teacher.[5] I couldn’t agree more. We need to learn from this woman. She represents us: who we are, where we are headed, and who we want to be there with. She gives us the words to say to God. Isn’t that wonderful? I read the Song sometimes and think, Oh wow, I can talk to God like this? She is so bold, so immodest, and blunt. She speaks her insecurities, her fears, names her abuse. She asks him where in the world he is right now. She makes her requests, showing us how to cultivate our desires. And she testifies to us, telling us what kind of man our Savior is. We need to learn from her.

And in this scene, she stops to see. She heard the voice. She tells us, Listen! Look! Esther Meek says this about beauty and reality: “It’s an event to which you are summoned to show up.”[6] We are being summoned to show up to real life. But the bride is telling us that we have to stop looking at the outside of things. We even do this in church. We parse careful theological statements and miss the love and dynamism behind them. We state propositions but we don’t see. We are preoccupied with our own purposes and we miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings coruscating around us in their joy. We need to be like the bride and like Mary and look and listen. And we need our brothers and sisters to remind us to do this. We need summoned back to reality. Things are not as they seem.

G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday[7] is a wild ride of a book. He referred to it as a melodramatic sort of moonshine. That makes me want to drink it up! But what does this have to do with preparing our souls for love and this section of the Song? Well, first, it’s full of allegory. And second, my biggest take-away from it is that nothing is as it seems. Reality isn’t what we think it is. Doesn’t the whole Bible teach us this? Isn’t the Song a glimpse, like Revelation, with the veil lifted? Chesterton does a bit of this in his storytelling.

The story is set up with a debate between an anarchist, Lucian Gregory (“that young man was not really a poet; but surely he was a poem”[8]), and the poet Gabriel Syme. These two very different men end up making a pact to keep one another’s secret after Gregory makes Syme an offer that “is far too idiotic to be declined.”[9] There’s some double agent spy work going on, but you’ll have to read the details for yourself. Eventually, we are led to the Council of Days. There are seven men on the Central Anarchist Council, and each man is named after a day of the week. They were planning to assassinate the Russian Czar and the President of the French Republic in Paris. I won’t give away anymore of the plot, but the “days” of the council are metaphors of parts of humanity that need redeemed. And the President, Sunday, terrified as they were of him, was elusive. His presence seemed looming, even as that too was a mystery. Where was he? He could be anyone in the room. Reading this thriller stirs up reflection on themes such as chaos verses law, optimism and pessimism, nihilism, materialism, monogamy, fellowship, and hospitality. The poetic reflections of Gabriel Syme add clues to the mystery while also causing the reader to have her own musings. I will share one with you. The main character, Syme, has an epiphany of his own at the end:

“Listen to me,” cried Syme with extraordinary emphasis. “Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front—”[10]

Now you see the connection, right? Here we are again with seeing that back and thinking it’s the reality. It’s not.

If we don’t see the world with Sunday as the first day of the week (working off the metaphor of the book), all we see is the back of everything. We are mere reactors to history. We work and labor for a rest that eludes us. But Sunday is coming. Every week we gather to worship as a testimony to this. The future is breaking into the present. When we know Christ, the vision of the future is opened up. We can see the front. We have a face. He is the Ultimate Reality. What is coming is transforming us now. All of the sudden, even the absurdities that often occur in life find their home. The destructiveness of false ideas is left naked and exposed. The masks have no adhesive. We hear the invitation.

We are being summoned to know Christ and all he has to show us. Beautiful reality.

A few days have passed since I wrote about the rain. I plopped myself on the chair of my front stoop this morning to pray after everyone filed out of the house. I felt like I just had this same old pile of people to bring before him, same requests, achings, questions, waiting…here we go again Lord with my cluelessness coming before you with my same junk. Where to begin? Concentrate Aimee, let’s start with some thankfulness for who he is. I start to conjure up something I think is profound, but my eyes are wandering. Why can’t I ever focus when it matters? My tree is beginning to get blooms, that’s cool. Back to praying. And Lord, … the birds are really getting into it this morning, listen to that. Oh wait, Lord, are you telling me to just sit here for a minute in your presence and look and listen for reality? All this spring bursting forth, take it in! This is our invitation. Let beauty captivate us and tell the story our hearts already know and long for. It is literally springtime here right now and the beauty of spring reminds us of the promises. Let it remind us that Christ our Bridegroom is with us. Let’s start hunting for reality, “the present glow of the sheer goodness that will be at the end.”[11]  Let’s be like the bride and remind one another to look and listen for it.

Arise, my darling.

Come away, my beautiful one.

Anyway, I’m off to hunt for some more clues…


[1] Proper 9 in series A in The Revised Common Lectionary (Nashville: Abington, 1992).

[2] See Christopher Mitchell, The Song of Songs, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 2003), 514-515.

[3] Mitchell, Song, 711.

[4] Malcom Guite, blog, “A Sonnet for the Annunciation,” March 24, 2012, https://malcolmguite.wordpress.com/2012/03/24/a-sonnet-for-the-annunciation/

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

[6] Esther Meek on “Art and Knowing with Esther Meek,” Two Cities podcast, Episode #61, March 24, 2021, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-61-art-knowing-with-dr-esther-meek/id1502131405?i=1000514203917

[7] G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday (Simon & Brown: NY?, First Published 1908; 2011 reprint).

[8] Chesterton, Thursday, 6.

[9] Chesterton, Thursday, 16

[10] Chesterton, Thursday, 178.

[11] Robert W. Jenson, Song of Songs (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 46.