I am not a Christian! I aspire to be a Christian – Psalm 139

There’s a famous story about Mahatma Gandhi in which, Gandhi has just finished expressing his admiration for the teachings of Jesus and is asked, “Mahatma, if you love Jesus so much, why don’t you become a Christian?” Gandhi is reported to have replied, “My friend, when I meet a Christian, I shall become a Christian.” This story has always caused me to insist that,“I am not a Christian!” When the shock of hearing a Christian pastor say, “I am not a Christian!” begins to settle, I declare that,  “I aspire to be a Christian.”

Part of my refusal to claim that I am already a “Christian” comes from the enormous task of being a Christian, which I believe comes down to following Jesus’ mandate to LOVE; to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. I believe that following Jesus’ takes us on a pathway which can open us to the reality life itself is all about learning how to be LOVE in the world.

Over the years, I have encountered may followers of Jesus, as well as followers of other faiths, and indeed followers of no faith at all,  who have embodied this LOVE which many of us call, “God.” I pray that from time to time, I too have been able to be LOVE in the world. But neither I, nor any of those holy ones, for it is by embodying LOVE that we are “holy,” none of us have arrived as the LOVERs we are created to be, for life is a journey of endless becomings.

In the arrogance of my youth, I thought that it was all so very simple as I reduced Christianity to simply following Jesus commandment to “love God”, I trusted that loving God was motivation enough to love the very things which God loved, namely, my neighbours and myself. Indeed, my simple conviction that my love for God was the foundation from which my Christianly would mold me into a “good Christian” when it came to caring for my neighbours eventually drove me into my vocation as a pastor. My own Christianity was all wrapped up in my love for my God. And therein lies the rub. You see, my confidence in my christian identity revolved around my love for my god. The identity of my god was based on my understanding of all that I had been taught, together with my own hopes and expectations, mixed with a dash of childish anxieties, and some not so subtle ingrained biases. My god, was very much a bearded, wise, domineering, old, white, man, who was prone to fits of anger, insisted upon getting his own way, confessed to be jealous, kept a list and checked it more than twice, and knew me in ways that I didn’t know myself.

It is not surprising then, that the Psalm prescribed for this particular Sunday in the Church year, Psalm 139, was my favourite of all the Psalms. Listen to the words of Psalm 139 as they are prescribed in the Revised Common Lectionary. I should note that the powers that be have decreed that several verses are to be left out of todays reading. So, I shall read the only the verses of the psalm that the powers of the church have decided should be read. The verses which are to be left out are indicated with an ellipsis: dot dot dot – three dots which if you google them you will discover actually indicate: something which has been deliberately hidden.

I am reading from the inclusive Bible, Psalm 139:

YHWH, you’ve searched me,

and you know me.

You know if I am standing or sitting,

you read my thoughts from far away.

Whether I walk or lie down, you are watching;

you are intimate with all of my ways.

A word is not even on my tongue, YHWH,

before you know what it is:

you hem me in, before and behind,

shielding me with your hand.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

a height my mind cannot reach! 

Where Could I run from your Spirit?

Where could I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you’re there;

if I make my bed in Death, you’re already there.

I could fly away with wings made of dawn,

or my home on the far side of the sea,

but even there your hand will guide me,

your mighty hand holding me fast.

If I say, “The darkness will hide me,

and night will be my only light,”

even the darkness won’t be dark to you;

the night will shine like the day—

darkness and light are the same to you.

 

You created my inmost being

and stitched me together in my mother’s womb.

For all these mysteries I thank you—

for the wonder of myself,

for the wonder of your works—

my soul knows it well.

My frame was not hidden from you

while I was being made in that secret place,

knitted together in the depths of the earth;

your eyes saw my body even there.

All of my days

were written in your book,

all of them planned

before even the first of them came to be.

How precious your thoughts are to me, O God!

How impossible to number them!

I could no more count them

Than I could count the sand.

But suppose I could?

You would still be with me!

            Examine me, O God, and know my heart;

            test me and know my thoughts—

            see if there is misdeed within me,

            and guide me in the way that is eternal.

Looking back at the young woman I was, I can understand how this became my favorite  Psalm. Hearing this psalm for the first time in church, confirmed all my fondest desires about the god of my understanding. Hearing this psalm spoken or chanted as part of the church’s liturgy, I encountered the kindly old gentleman of my fondest hopes; a gentle grandfather who knew me better than I knew myself and still loved me, a love so immense that I, little old me, I was assured of only the gentlest of corrections as I journeyed toward eternity. I loved this psalm right up until the moment I actually read this psalm. dot dot dot – indicates that something is deliberately hidden  Once read the hidden verses can never be forgotten:

O God, if only you would destroy those degenerates!

If only these reprobates would leave me alone!

They talk blasphemously about you;

Your enemies treat you as if you were nothing.

Don’t I hate those who hate you, YHWH?

Don’t I loathe those who defy you?

I hate them with a total hatred,

And regard them as my own enemies!

My disappointment was palpable. The god of my dreams reverted to type; a type of god who inspired hatred. But never mind. “Have faith!” I told myself. For surely God who is infinitely wiser than you, surely God of Heaven and Earth, like all wise, old, holy, white, men, surely our god has reasons beyond our understanding for all his objectional characteristics. So, I put away, or at least tried to put away my doubts, and followed the wisdom of church elders and put away the objectional verses so that I could rest secure in the care of my great, grand, Father-in-the-Sky.

There’s been a great deal of water under the bridge since stopped claiming that, “I am a Christian!” and began insisting that,  “I aspire to be Christian” … dot dot dot  In addition to meaning, “something deliberately hidden” can also mean: “therefore”. I no longer envision the MYSTERY which some of us call “GOD” as a person. As the ancient Greek philosopher Xenophanes wisely understood, if horses could draw their gods, they would draw god as a horse. So, after giving up the vision of God drawn for me by men, I tried images of God as female, only to discover that I was simply projecting visions of my deepest desire for a god who is merely a better version of me onto the SOURCE of ALL.

dot dot dot  Only by including the words of Psalm 139 which are deliberately hidden can we begin to understand that the author of this beloved psalm in his full humanity. Like the imaginary horses of Xenophanes, who would draw horse-like gods, the psalmist draws a god who is just like himself. This psalm is attributed to King David; a deeply flawed man if ever there was one. Guilty of adultery, murder and possibly a genocide or two this warrior king projects his own hatred upon the god of his own desires just as surely as I projected the attributes, which I hold dear onto the god of my own desires.

dot dot dot . . . Therefore, what are we to do with this much beloved psalm? Well, I hope that we can continue to love this psalm for its brutal honesty. For like all great literature, this psalm reveals wisdom about who we are. Taken in its entirety this psalm, can teach us to search our very selves, deeply and intimately so that we may come to know who we are. Journeying into the very darkness which reveals magnitude and the apparent insignificance  of our being; stitched together in our mother’s womb by a CREATOR who is the purveyor of mysteries beyond our comprehension; a SOURCE beyond, mere knowing, capable of intimacy beyond our imaginings a MYSTERY BEYOND all mysteries, is a journey into which the teachings of Jesus invite us.

Yes, it may have all been simpler back then, when we were but children and drew upon images drawn by those who had gone before us, of a god-like-them. Such a god is capable of inspiring faith in children, who long for their stockings to be filled to overflowing by a santa-like-sky-god. But when and if we have the courage, or dare I say, the faith to search ourselves, all ourselves, what is revealed is a REALITY beyond our images, beyond our hopes, beyond our dreams, a MYSTERY which IS BEYOND the BEYOND and BEYOND that also. Yes, I know that it is easier to love a person than it is to love a mystery; especially a MYSTERY beyond our comprehension. Why else would we settle for personifications of the DIVINE? Hear me when I say this, there is absolutely nothing, I repeat NOTHING wrong with personifying the DIVINE MYSTERY which some of us call “God.” Humans personify all sorts of things! It is perfectly fine to refer to the DIVINE as a person just as long as we remember what it is that we are doing. We can personify the DIVINE as long as we remember that the DIVINE MYSTERY is not a person. For to worship the personification is to worship something less than the DIVINE itself. Our ancestors had a word for worshipping something other than the DIVINE and that word is idolatry. If we set the DIVINE up as a Father or a Mother, or even a horse, believing that God is a Father, a Mother, or a horse, than we have created our own version of the Golden Calf and the object of our worship is not the DIVINE MYSTERY but an idol.

A wise Hindu friend of mine, once reminded me that the notions of god as a person whether it be:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit , are but an educational toys, designed to help learn to love the MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of all that IS. She reminded me that Christians often wrongly insist that Hindus have many gods.She went on to explain that these gods are merely educational toys, all of which point toward the ONE who is beyond all. Later her brother, explained to me that the ONE which we Christians call “God” is BEYOND, the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also.

It may be easier to love a mere personification, or educational toy, or even an idol, but for those of us who strive to follow the teachings of Jesus, we are called upon to LOVE God with all our heart, soul, and mind. How do we wrap our arms around the MYSTERY, which is BEYOND, the BEYOND and BEYOND that also? I don’t know. That’s my point.We don’t know. dot dot dot . . .

We don’t know; therefore, we get to set out upon a journey into the unknown.For those of us who aspire to Christianity, we begin with our desire to follow Jesus call to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and love our neighbours as ourselves. We begin with love, the LOVE which is DIVINE, for God IS LOVE. Some of you know that my favorite way of describing the MYSTERY which is DIVINITY, dates all the way back to the fourth century when St. Augustine expressed the Trinity as the LOVER, BELOVED and LOVE ITSELF.

As the Apostle Paul writes our God is the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being. dot dot dot – therefore we live and move and have our being in our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF. How do we love a MYSTERY which IS BEYOND, the BEYOND and BEYOND that also? We begin by loving our neighbour as we love ourselves. For if we have our being in LOVE then LOVE lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. dot dot dot – therefore . . .Let us aspire to be LOVE in the world.

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LOVE, which we call God, IS a STRANGE ATTRACTOR!

Jesus of Nazareth was an obscure poor, brown, Jewish rabbi living in an oppressed part of the Roman Empire, whose death continues to impact the world. His death upon the Empire’s instrument of execution, was relatively unremarkable. Thousands upon thousands of unruly inhabitants of the Empire were executed during Jesus’ lifetime by those charged with the task of establishing and maintaining order by force. To the powers that be, Jesus’ execution was little more than the routine death of a homeless, outcast who spent far too much time creating social unrest. Nothing more than the insignificant death of a troublemaker without influence in the halls of power, who would not or could not moderate his own behavior. An insignificant troublemaker dies, under the rule of law, and yet, the impact continues to reverberate all around the world, nearly 2000 years after it should have been long forgotten.

Late last fall, nobody’s really sure exactly when or to whom it happened, but sometime last fall, a person so obscure that history will fail to name them, someone living in an Empire where order is maintained by force, got sick and died. The impact of that death has kept millions of us all around the world, locked up inside our homes avoiding tiny droplets whose impact upon any one of us could be catastrophic. For months now, I have heard various people, including myself, refer to these strange times which we are living in as “chaotic”.  The very word chaos summons in me visions of Genesis, when the Ruach, the breath of the CREATOR hovered over what in Hebrew is called the tohu va-bohu, the formless void, or the chaos, the RUACH hovers over the tohu va-bohu and calls forth light out of the chaos of darkness.

I can’t help wondering what it will take to bring forth light out of the chaos which continues to swirl around us. When the impact of apparently insignificant events can create waves which reverberate throughout creation in an endless whirl and swirl capable of sweeping us off our collective feet and setting us adrift on stormy seas, where or how can we find moorings to set us a right?  It makes sense to look to science as a way of knowing, so that we might chart a course to solid ground. So, my mind jumps to what little science I have. I must confess that I dropped out of physics before the Christmas exam so as to avoid failing physics altogether. I am but a humble wordsmith. So clutching my visions of chaos, let me cross into unfamiliar scientific territory to explore the contours of what physicists call, chaos theory. I say contours of chaos theory, because I am but a wordsmith and it sounds appealing, but it would be more accurate to say, let me examine a small droplet of chaos theory.

The term “chaos theory” was coined back in the 1960s by a mathematician named Edward Lorenz who worked at MIT as a meteorologist. Lorenz was trying to use complicated mathematical formulas to develop models to predict the weather patterns and systems. During the course of his research, what seemed like an insignificant computer input decision, revealed the impact of unintended consequences. Lorenz had rounded off the number 0.506127 to 0.506, assuming that the difference of 0.000127 was so insignificant that its impact would be inconsequential. Lorenz turned out to be wrong.  What appeared to be a tiny inconsequential number, turned out to have a significant impact.

That tiny number, somewhere in the mere millionths of a difference in barometric pressure, capable of only an infinitesimal impact on wind speed, no bigger than a baby’s sneeze or the beat of a butterfly’s wings, that tiny change, at the beginning of a weather system turned out to be the difference between a blue sky and a monsoon. Lorenz coined the phrase: “Butterfly Effect” to describe this phenomenon.

Today, quantum physicists use the butterfly effect to describe what happens when a small change in one place in a system can result in a ginormous difference in a later state. The mere flapping of a butterfly wing has a ripple effect which multiplies over time and changes weather patterns thousands of miles away.  

The unintended consequences of our actions are almost unfathomable. When George Floyd lay dying beneath the knee of a police officer steeped in the supremacy myths of Western Empires, Floyd called out for his Mamma and a world in lockdown rose up and risked the dangers of marching in the streets during a global pandemic. Mothers and nurturers in cities and towns all over the planet responded to one more death in a long line of forgettable deaths of obscure people who just happened to be  Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. Suddenly, collective chants of “Black lives matter,” and “Indigenous lives matter,” ring out across this planet and once again the forces of Empire resort to calls for “law and order.”

Somehow the randomness of events coming together makes life seem just that, random, and we are left hovering over the tohu va bohu, the formless void, longing for a creative power stronger than our puny empires to call forth light from the darkness. Fortunately, not all darkness is terrifying. After all, we humans gestate in darkness. New life begins in darkness. Whether life is cocooned in in the waters of the womb, or planted in the darkness of the Earth, the seeds of life require darkness to thrive.

Ah ha, you were wondering when I’d get to the Sower in our gospel reading. Well, let’s look at this Sower. For most of my life I have read this parable and said, “Ah ha! Finally, a parable without hidden meaning; a parable which I can understand.” But that was back when I believed that God, you know the grand-puppeteer in the sky, the god who is in charge of everything, the one who is up there manipulating everything; that god who I have long since retired in favour of the DIVINE MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of reality; the MYSTERY which is the LOVE we call “God”.  Believing that we live and move and have our being in the MYSTERY who lives and breathes in with through and beyond us, means that I must dig a little deeper to find the hidden seeds sowed by a SOWER who lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us.

You see there is more to chaos theory than the randomness of the butterfly effect. The god of my past, let’s call him, and I do mean, him, let’s call him the sky-god, withers into absurdity when cast in the role of first and final cause, a supreme universal agent, first imagining and then designing all outcomes in the universe.  As theologian Robin Meyers insists in his book, “Saving God From Religion:”

“It is comforting to believe that we exist because God intended that we should exist. It means we are here in our present form because, as the poetry of Genesis asserts, humans are the final, consummate project of a creator who had us in mind all along. Chaos theory, on the other hand, suggests that we are a onetime, non-repeatable, fantastic but essentially meaningless occurrence.  Go back and introduce even the smallest variable—say, a primate virus at just the right moment…and your aunt Martha would not exist, nor would you, nor would anyone else you love. .. …..Except that isn’t exactly what chaos theory says. It is paradoxically named, because Lorenz believed that results that appear chaotic may, in fact, be “ordered” at the outer limits by some mysterious “boundary.”  You never get the same results twice, but there is also a kind of phenomenological “edge” beyond which those final results never go. Lorenz mapped this boundary and called it a “strange attractor.” When he looked at his graphs, he realized that although the weather patterns never repeated themselves, they all traced a pattern that was undeniable, a self-imposed elegance that kept what appeared to be chaotic from flying off the page. Some people have compared this boundary, this strange attractor,” to God.”

The MYSTERY which is the LOVE which some of us call God is a strange attractor indeed, living and breathing in, with, through, and beyond us, sowing seeds of new life into the blessed darkness, ever-creating more and more glorious ways of being in the world. Even the tiniest of seeds are capable of giving birth to the most awesome creations.  An obscure poor, brown, Jewish rabbi living in an oppressed part of a totalitarian Empire, his life and death continue to impact the world.

Your life, my life, our lives together, there are all sorts of possibilities. Random, perhaps, unintended consequences almost certainly. But also, splendid opportunities. You see, you are all wonderfully made, endowed with the capacity to choose. Which means that in addition to circumstances beyond our control, there are also circumstances within our control. Each and every one of us can choose to perpetrate random acts of kindness, outrageous outpours of generosity, ridiculously displays of hospitality, dangerous demonstrations of courage, along with  extravagant acts of LOVE.

What does LOVE look like in these strange and chaotic times?  LOVE looks like you: you speaking out when you hear of injustice, you listening with a fierce passion to someone who desperately needs to be heard, you standing in solidarity with the poor or the oppressed, you marching in the streets for change, or you tenderly touching the shoulder of someone who is lost, or you feeding the hungry, giving a cold glass of water, or welcoming a stranger, you daring to move beyond your comfort zone, you laughing out loud in the face of ignorance, you wearing a mask, you holding your lover, or you knelling in prayer, or you refusing to give up, or you daring to hope, or dreaming new dreams.

LOVE is you and I working together with all the many embodiments of LOVE to live into the dream of the kin-dom. It may appear to all the world that your one precious life is insignificant, hardly worth mentioning in the grand scheme of things. Then suddenly, like the flapping of a butterfly’s wings, your random action begins a journey, we know not where. Meyers insists that, “To choose. Is life’s most powerful, most spiritual, most God-like activity.”

Friends we are indeed, living in strange and chaotic times. There are forces out there who would have us restore order so that we can return to what is familiar. We could simply just choose to plant the same old seeds. There’s something appealing about the powers of empire, better the evil we know than the evils we don’t know. Or we could put our faith in the STRANGE ATTRACTOR and trust in the elegance of Creation to ensure that we don’t fly off into oblivion. For this STRANGE ATTRACTOR holds our existence in a miraculous web of tiny occurrences which have power beyond our wildest imaginations.

So, let us choose to plant seeds of kindness, generosity, hospitality, and courage so that the LOVE which is the MYSTERY we call God can live, and move, and have being, in, with, through, and beyond us. Let us be the CREATORS you were created to be.

For we were created out of the tohu va bohu, out of the chaos and we are held in LOVE by THIS STRANGE ATTRACTOR, which is the MYSTERY that gives us the audacity so that we can choose what seeds we shall plant. Let us be random, outrageous, ridiculous, dangerous, extravagant sowers of the seeds of kindness, generosity, hospitality, and courage.  Let us be LOVE in the world! LOVE which is BEYOND the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also!

View the full Worship Video below. Download the Order of Service here

Erotic Playfulness: SOPHIA/WISDOM, a sermon Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

In Jesus’ words, we can hear the dim echoes of a time gone by. Long before Jesus came there was a character who called out in the marketplaces. You can read about her in the biblical books of Proverbs, Job, the Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus. What students of the Bible call the “Wisdom literature” is full of stories about a character who so many people have never heard of.

In the book of Proverbs, she claims to have been there when CREATOR was busy creating and she declares:  “When God set the heavens in place, I was present, when God drew a ring on the surface of the deep, when God fixed the clouds above, when God fixed fast the wells of the deep, when God assigned the sea its limits…when God established the foundations of the earth, I was by God’s side, a master craftswoman. Delighting God day after day, ever at play by God’s side, at play everywhere in God’s domain, delighting to be with the children of humanity.”   

So, just who is this master craftswoman? Job insists that, “we have heard reports of her”. But, “God alone has traced her path and found out where she lives.” The writer of Ecclesiasticus admonishes the reader to: “court her with all your soul, and with all your might keep her ways; go after her and seek her; she will reveal herself to you; once you hold her, do not let her go.  For in the end, you will find rest in her and she will take the form of joy for you.”

In the Wisdom of Solomon, she is described as, “quicker to move than any motion; she is so pure, she pervades and permeates all things. She is a breath of the power of God, pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; hence nothing impure can find a way into her. She is a reflection of the eternal light, untarnished mirror of God’s active power, image of God’s goodness. Although alone, she can do all things; herself unchanging she makes all things new. In each generation, she passes into holy souls, she makes them friends of God and prophets.”

You may not know who she is, but Jesus certainly did. Tales of her deeds were popular in Jesus’ day. Jesus, a student of the scriptures who was referred to as a rabbi, would certainly have known who this heroine of the scriptures is. In the ancient Hebrew texts of the Wisdom Literature she is called “CHOKMAH.”  In the ancient Greek translations of these texts she is called “SOPHIA.” In our English translations of these texts she is simply known as “wisdom.” The ancient Hebrew and Greek languages were written without punctuation. Often in Greek, there were no spaces between the words. Until long after Jesus’ day there were only capital letters. Upper- and lower-case letters were not used. Unlike our system where personal names begin with capital and are followed with lower case letters, ancient texts consist of lines of unbroken capitals. Often ancient Greek, the words did not have spaces between them and so translating these texts into English is tricky. This is just one of the reasons why Sophia’s story has remained hidden from most of us. 

When you read the texts that describe “wisdom,” it is clear that they are, at the very least, speaking about Wisdom as though Wisdom is a person. SOPHIA is wisdom personified. SOPHIA is spoken of as being around from the beginning–before Creation. She was with YAHWEH at the time of creation; creation couldn’t happen without her presence. Other biblical passages show her coming to be with humanity, reaching out to people to be in relationship with them. She walks through the streets, calling out to people, trying to get them to listen–to follow her. She’s also a welcoming hostess inviting people to her table, a bountiful provider of food, the source of all good things.  She is the way to abundant life.

She is also a trickster and play is one of the ways she gets things done. You may not have heard of her, but when Jesus speaks to the people about children calling to one another in the marketplaces, the people would have remembered SOPHIA standing in the marketplaces and calling the people out to dance. But the people refused to join in SOPHIA’s playful dance. SOPHIA’s reputation for playfulness led the people to refuse her invitation.  In the same way, Jesus who came eating and drinking, called out to the people and his reputation led the people to label him a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!

Jesus declares:  “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance”.  Jesus harkens back to the images of SOPHIA in the Scriptures and insists that, “SOPHIA/WISDOM will be vindicated by her deeds.” SOPHIA’s reputation as a trickster who accomplishes great deeds through play and Jesus’ reputation as a glutton and a drunkard who comes to the world eating and drinking aren’t usually emphasized these days, by those who tout their religion in the public square, or on social media. I can honestly say, I have never heard people who call themselves, “Bible believing Christians,” taking to social media to encourage friends and followers to eat, drink, and be merry. And yet, this stuff is in the Bible.

The Bible describes playfulness as an important part of the God in whose image we are created.  All too often those of us who profess to follow Jesus, refuse to hear Jesus’ cry: ‘We piped you a tune, but you wouldn’t dance.” Jesus is calling us out to play. Yes, I know this is a summer like no other summer we have ever experienced. I would love to just go out to the lake and splash and play in the water. But the beaches remain closed, so let Jesus’ words take us back to the words of Sophia, so that we can play together in the words of the scriptures.

In the Bible, it is Sophia who is first given the task of calling God’s people out to play, and that playfulness goes way beyond dancing. Despite the church’s history of attempts to contain and or constrain our playfulness, Jesus continues to call us out to play!

On this glorious summer Sunday, on a weekend when it is meet right and salutary to celebrate, we can listen to the tune Jesus is piping and we can dance for joy for we are wondrously and gloriously made. Weekends are not the only things designed for play; we are. In the biblical books which are known as Wisdom Literature, it is made very clear that our bodies are blessings given by God so that we might delight in them.

Playfulness includes exploring the pleasures that one body can give to another body. There’s a little book in the Bible which we call the Song of Solomon, which for centuries was simply known as the Song of Songs and there you will find words that can make self-righteous Christians blush and televangelists positively apoplectic. “Look, there my love 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; and come away; for now, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. Let my love kiss me with kisses on the mouth!”  How did this get into the Bible?

The Song of Solomon, or as it is sometimes called, the Song of Songs is surely the most erotic book of the Bible. This erotic song of songs is a long poem in which a woman, “Black and beautiful,” woman and a man, “radiant and ruddy,” speak the language of desire, cataloguing every inch of each other’s body, every smell and every taste. The radiant young man declares to his lover, “Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine.”  And she tells anyone who will listen that, “His cheeks are like beds of spices, yielding fragrance. His lips are lilies, distilling liquid myrrh,” He responds by exclaiming that her, “two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle. I am my beloved’s” she exults, “and his desire is for me.”

The Song of Songs is a song about desire, and so it is also a song about the pain of separation, of missed meetings, and of absence. “O that his left hand were under my head,” the woman sings with palpable yearning, “and that his right hand embraced me!”  When this passionate woman’s lover knocks on her door, she hesitates for a moment to open it. And when she begins to speak, this ancient biblical woman speaks some of the sexist lines in any literature. “My beloved thrust his hand into the opening and my inmost being yearned for him. I arose to open to my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with liquid myrrh, upon the handles of the bolt.”

When she opens the door, he is gone, and she heads out into the city to search for him, crying,  “I implore you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, tell him this: I am faint with love.” 

How did this erotic love poem make it into the Bible?  No one knows for sure. But scores of interpreters, both Jewish and Christian, have found in it the song of human yearning for the DIVINE ONE and the DIVINE ONE’s desire to be in intimate relationship with humanity.

The Song of Songs is read at the festival of the Passover as a reminder that YAHWEH delivered Israel from slavery not only because the DIVINE ONE was bound by the covenant to do so, but also because the HOLY ONE loved the people of Israel and desired goodness for them.

The ancient Christian writer Bernard of Clarvaux wrote more than eighty sermons on the Song of Songs without even making it past the third chapter. According to Clarvaux the poem provided a means by which the individual believer could come into intimate relationship with God. Like all great poetry, the Song of Songs can easily sustain a wide range of interpretations. But it resists being read only as a spiritual text about human beings devoid of bodies. Clairvaux warned young monks and nuns not to read it until their faith matured, because of the sexual feelings it is able to inspire.

The song is so erotic, that to this day, orthodox Jews are cautioned not to read it until they reach the age of forty. For to read the Song of Solomon without the wisdom that comes from age could cause the reader to unwisely give in to their own passionate desires.

From the pages of scripture sacred to Jews and Christians alike, the Song of Songs remains a testimony to mutuality in love, to the beauty of the human body, to the goodness of sexual desire and the power of love. The Song proclaims that “Love is as strong as death, and passion fierce as the grave.” “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If one offered for love all the wealth of one’s house, it would be utterly scorned.”

And we’re not talking about agape here.   No this is not the agape love shared between friends or members of a faith community. We’re talking about eros.  Eros, the love that is expressed in the passionate embrace of bodies. In the Song of Songs, we find no anxiety about erotic desire’s power.

In the Song of Songs, passionate desire is portrayed as the force that binds us to one another.  The relationship described in the Song is one of mutuality; the lovers are evenly matched in the force of their desire.  They are equally vulnerable in their desire to be desired by one another; they are equally determined to give and to receive pleasure. For centuries, the church has selected particular pieces of scripture in order to say, “no” to the pleasures of sex in any way shape or form.

In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus declared that “WISDOM/ SOPHIA will be vindicated by wise deeds.” Surely WISDOM/SOPHIA is vindicated in relationships so intimate and satisfying that they draw us out of ourselves and more deeply into the passions of life in Creation? Relationships in which pleasure is given and received with joy. Relationships in which knowledge of the body is sought with care and gentleness, in which the body is pronounced beautiful over and over again.

As we come to experience the erotic as sacred, we can begin to know ourselves as holy and to imagine ourselves sharing in Creation with one another for our common well-being. When we recognize the face of the HOLY ONE in the face of our lover as well as in our own face, we can begin to feel at ease in our bodies.  The DIVINE ONE moves among us. In, with, through, and beyond our bodies the DIVINE ONE lives and breathes and plays.   

Jesus implores us: “come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yolk is easy, and my burden is light.” In these strange times, we may not be able to enjoy our regular summer pleasures. So, as our beaches remain closed, why not open up the Song of Solomon and rejoice and be glad, as you read: “I am my beloved’s and my beloved’s desire is for me. Come, my beloved let us go forth into the fields, and lodge in the villages; let us go out early into the vineyards, and see whether the vines have budded, whether the grape blossoms have opened, and the pomegranates are in bloom. Then I will give you my love.”  According to the Scriptures, SOPHIA stood out in the streets and invited the people to come and play–to tell jokes–to laugh at our blunders. 

In today’s gospel Jesus compares his generation to children who sit and refuse to play. Do NOT let it be said of this generation that we refused to play, that the delights and pleasures which come to us as gifts from our CREATOR were shunned or wasted. Our bodies are sacred instruments designed to play. In the sacred dance of desire, we are opened to the transforming power of LOVE. So, remember to give and take delight in your play. Let yourselves be transformed. Let your bodies open you to the wonders of life and for God’s sake dance! Dance, and rejoice for you are wonderfully made; designed to play. Amen.

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