"The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
looking through the lattice.
My beloved speaks and says to me:
"Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away…" - Song of Songs 2:8-10
I used to scoff, pretty hardcore, at certain ways of reading the Song of Songs. "Christ and his bride, the Church? Boooo, allegory! Tune in and get liberated, squares: this is about sex, pure and simple." I loved that my Bible contained a naughty celebration of human love, of sexual desire. I still do.
But while taking the Song at face value is naughty and lovely in one way, old-school allegory may be even more so: if the characters in the story are God and the church, or God and humanity, or God and you, then the story presumes an equality between the two so profound that it really ought to shock the pants off anybody paying attention.
God, actively trying to get me to have some alone time in the woods. Jesus, finding me attractive enough to seduce me (calm down; we're reading allegorically now, remember?). The Spirit, abandoning the comforting of the world long enough to whisper sweet nothings through my keyhole. Oh, my.
Or maybe it's the other way around. Maybe God's the one locked in the house, and I'm the one trying to coax God out into the open. Maybe God's the demure one, torn between decorum and desire for me. Maybe my gazelle-leaps and stag horns make the creator of the cosmos want to rip open the heavens and go bounding through the fields with me.
I used to think that allegory was just an imaginative attempt to tame the Song's naughtiness. But the truth is, for sheer shock value, two random people falling in love has nothing on a God that is as besotted with humanity as ours is.
God, your love is enough to make even the least prudish of us clutch our pearls in wonderment. Thank you. Amen.
Small Group Discussion
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Quinn G. Caldwell is the Pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, Syracuse, New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.