Spirituality and Sexuality – 7,22,07 – Song of Songs 7:10-8:7

When I was growing up one of my favorite songs to sing was “His banner over me is love.”  One of the great things about this song was the hand motions.  “I’m my beloved’s and he is mine his banner over me is love.  I’m my beloved’s and he is mine his banner over me is love. …his banner, over me, is love.”  Another thing that really made the song great was that we would start slow and then speed up, so that by the end we were getting our “banners” all mixed up with our “over me’s” and our “loves,” which, for kids and adults, can be very funny. 


What we were singing about, of course, was God’s love for us and our love for God.  The line, “I am my beloved’s and he is mine” is a phrase that gets repeated throughout the Song of Solomon, also known as the Song of Songs.  And this Song, this poetic book of the Bible, has often been interpreted as a love song between God and Israel, or between Christ and the church, of God’s passionate love for the covenant people.  All of this is quite true, but once you start reading this thing it becomes pretty clear that this is not the only way this was meant to be interpreted.  When it starts out with “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For love is better than wine,” and then quickly moves into the lovers speaking fondly of each other’s bodies, it certainly opens the door for something a little more than just spiritual affection. 


Now I took the risk of asking you all to name your favorite OT passages and I guess I should have expected that somebody would name the Song of Songs.  It’s one of those texts that goes completely counter to any notions of religion as something drab or disconnected from our humanity.  It is charged with passion and energy, so much so that as you read through it you have the occasional thought of “Wow, how did they let that get in here?”  For those desiring an integration of the spiritual and the physical parts of our being, it’s an important text to know and claim as part of our Scriptures.


As Mennonites we know a thing or two about songs.  About a song’s ability to lift us out of our individuality and unite us in spirit.  About the importance of singing together and the value of harmony and the way that a song can be a prayer.  Well, here we have a book that dares to have the title Song of Songs.  Sort of like the title King of kings or Lord of Lords.  Of all the kings, of all the lords, of all the songs, this one surpasses them all and is the greatest, not even on the same level, but the Song of Songs.  And the song that is sung here, at least one interpretation of it, is a song celebrating the desire for intimacy, including sexual intimacy, between two people.


The passage that was read begins with that familiar refrain, “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me,” a woman’s voice noting that she has given herself over to her beloved, and that her beloved has focused his love and desire on her.  The relationship is one of mutual affection and reciprocal love.  She continues, now speaking directly to her partner “Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the fields, and lodge in the villages; let us go out early to the vineyards and see whether the vines have budded, whether the pomegranates are in bloom.  There I will give you my love.”  She continues a little later, “I would give you spiced wine to drink, the juice of my pomegranates.”  This kind of language runs throughout the poem, with continual references to the aliveness of nature, sometimes placing the lovers within the blooming natural world, sometimes using nature as a metaphor for each other’s bodies, and sometimes the line between each other’s bodies and nature getting blurred enough to give the sense that it is all intermingling and unified in the bond of love between these two partners.  The song is filled with expressions of the urge for togetherness, and the delight of having found a partner who makes the whole world bloom with life. 


We inherit a tradition that has often thought in dualistic terms of body and spirit, with the greater value being placed on the latter.  One of the first challenges to the early church came from the Gnostics who believed that the physical world itself, including our bodies, was evil, and that our true nature is heavenly, spiritual.  The purpose of life was to transcend our material body through gaining gnosis, saving knowledge, of our pure, spiritual selves.  Traces of Gnosticism pop up in different religious systems that over-emphasize saving our souls and place no inherent worth in the physicality of our bodies and creation.  On a more general level, the church historically has struggled to see sexuality as a good gift from God to be enjoyed and celebrated.  To borrow the two favorite phrases from last week’s children’s story, the church’s attitude toward the spirit and body split has often been: Spirit, soul, spirituality “Oh, that’s good”  Body, flesh, sexuality “Oh, that’s bad!”


Perhaps it is worth jogging our memories as to how Scripture imagines our humanity as it has been created by God.  That God looked with joy on the physical creation of light, and sky, and vegetation, and animals and echoed that “it was good.”  And when humanity finally came on the scene, God saw everything that was made, and “indeed, it was very good.”  And that there was a kind of wholeness there that knew of no division between spirit and body, or soul and sexuality, that we all, animals and humans alike, come from this dark, rich earth, and we come all fired up with desire and spiritedness.  And that shame about our bodies isn’t something inherent in our natures, but something that has come on the scene later, so that now we cover our nakedness and also cover ourselves from God’s gaze.  And God comes looking for us and asks, “Where are you?” Like portrayed in that Garden of Eden scene.  Where is this wonderful creature I’ve created and why are you hiding from yourself and from me? 


And then for the bulk of our history we have been hidden from the wholeness that God would have us live.  The unity of selfhood that can so easily come undone, and make unhealthy separations and severances between things like our body and our spirit.  So the body hides from the spirit and the spirit hides from the body and we feel the dis-ease that results.


So we also must remember that central, pivotal revelation of our faith that can take us beyond our dis-ease — what theologians have called incarnation.  Incarnation, built around the Latin word carnus meaning flesh, physicality.  Enfleshment.  Signaled in that crucial line from John’s gospel “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”   Jesus, modeling, teaching us, about the coming together of Holy spirit and Holy body.  Jesus embodying God’s presence for all five of our senses to see, hear, smell, touch, and then, in his parting, offering a meal that we are to continue tasting, the bread and the cup, knowing God in the everyday elements that sustain us and enter our bodies and give us energy.  The goodness of our bodies and of God’s desire to dwell within our bodies just as Jesus modeled.  No more hiding.  No more severing.  But unification, togetherness, incarnation.


The biblical story we are rooted in is one where both body and spirit are good creations of God and where God shares with creation in this urge for togetherness. 


Ronald Rolheiser has written a book called The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality.  I’ve referred to it a few times before in sermons and musings.  Part of what he tries to do in this writing is to communicate an understanding of spirituality that includes, rather than excludes, our sexuality and the drives and desires that live within us.  Spirituality and sexuality, he believes, flow out of the same energy that God has breathed into us.  He begins the book, in chapter one, with a quote from the German poet Goethe and then makes some of his own comments.  The poem: “We are fired into life with a madness that comes from the gods and which would have believe that we can have a great love, perpetuate our own seed, and contemplate the divine.”  And then Rolheiser: “It is no easy task to walk this earth and find peace.  Inside of us, it would seem, something is at odds with the very rhythm of things and we are forever restless, dissatisfied, frustrated, and aching.  We are so overcharged with desire that it is hard to come to simple rest.  Desire is always stronger than satisfaction…This desire lies as the center of our lives, in the marrow of our bones, and in the deep recesses of the soul…Desire can show itself as aching pain or delicious hope.  Spirituality is, ultimately, about what we do with that desire.  What we do with our longings, both in terms of handling the pain and the hope they bring us, that is our spirituality.”


The Song of Songs is a picture of how that charge of desire that makes up our spiritual/sexual selves can play out in a relationship.  And, for much of the time, as it was in the beginning, it is good, very good.  “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”  The relationship is reciprocal, with mutual desire, each enriching the life of the other.  Honoring each other’s bodies.  Finding beauty in the most mundane parts of each other: chapter 7 How graceful are you feet in sandals, O queenly maiden!…your neck is like an ivory tower, your eyes are pools in Heshbon.”  And I won’t go into what they say about the less mundane parts or else I’ll really start blushing.  These partners are entranced with each other. 


But all of this does come with a word of caution.  This is not some imaginary world of bliss and fantasy.   


With the vulnerability that comes with giving over oneself to another comes the risk of being wounded.  In what I consider to be one of, if not the, most powerful statements about love and desire in all of Scripture.  Chapter 8:6-7 “Set me as a seal upon your heart, like the seal upon your hand.  For love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave.  Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame.  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.”  As grand and fulfilling as mutual affection can be, the desire and passion that lies underneath our longings is like a raging flame, fierce as the grave, strong as death itself.  In a word, powerful.  A power not to be taken lightly and not to be played with. 


It is not difficult to find ways that the fire has burned or injured many.  Sexuality is a root of both great good and great harm.  In its distorted form, this power manifests itself in obsessions, addictions, abuse.  All so common…All so incredibly damaging.


In a moment of reflection, the lover steps back from her passion to reflect on its fierceness.  It’s like a fire. She could dump a whole hurricane on this flame and it still wouldn’t go out.  She considers all the wealth she may be able to muster, and still considers this drive to be more powerful.  It has great value and should not be treated flippantly.  And so she expresses her yearning for this fire between her and her lover to be contained within a safe place.  “Set me as a seal upon your heart, like the seal upon your hand.”  What we share, let us share it within this safe space that we have created together and let the power between us be balanced.  Mutual caring.  Wrap me around your heart, like a permanent seal, and I’ll do the same for you.  Let us find a way to let this fire warm us and give us light without overtaking us and burning us.


Ronald Rolheiser, himself a celibate Catholic priest, speaks of all of us having that fire within, that good gift of slightly overcharged desire that God has placed in our bodies.  Our spirituality and sexuality both come from that fire.  He says, “Sexuality is an all-encompassing energy inside us.  In one sense, it is identifiable with the principle of life itself.  It is the drive for love, communion, community, friendship, family, affection, wholeness, consummation, creativity, self-perpetuation, immortality, joy, delight, humor, and self-transcendence.  It is not good to be alone.  When God said this about Adam at the dawn of creation, God meant it about every man, woman, child, animal, insect, plant atom, and molecule in the universe.  Our sexuality is the energy inside us that works incessantly against our being alone.”


The Song of Songs, the most sublime of all songs that we sing in life, is about how we shape our energy and desires in such a way so as to delight in communing with others.  We are all sexual, spiritual beings and we express that urge for togetherness in all our relationships.  God has made us for each other and for God’s self. 

 My prayer is that we can continue to learn to live safely and joyfully under the banner of love.


3 thoughts on “Spirituality and Sexuality – 7,22,07 – Song of Songs 7:10-8:7

  1. i was looking into the thing in sons of songs about the love of solomon
    as being black….
    and my download of gill commentaries from e-sword has some interesting interpretatoins..

    Son 1:5 I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.
    Son 1:6 Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother’s children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.

    Son 1:6 Look not upon me,…. Meaning not with scorn and disdain because of her meanness; nor as prying into her infirmities to expose her; nor with joy at her trials and afflictions; neither of these can be supposed in the daughters of Jerusalem addressed by her: but rather, not look on her as amazed at her sufferings, as though some strange thing had befallen her; not at her blackness only, on one account or another, lest they should be stumbled; but at her beauty also;

    because I am black; or “blackish” somewhat black (a), but not so black as might be thought, or as she was represented: the radicals of the word being doubled, some understand it as diminishing; but rather it increases the signification; see Psa_14:2; and so it may be rendered “very black” (b), exceeding black; and this she repeats for the sake of an opportunity of giving the reason of it, as follows;

    because the sun hath looked upon me; and had burnt her, and made her black; which effect the sun has on persons in some countries, and especially on such who are much abroad in the fields, and employed in rural services (c); as she was, being a keeper of vineyards, as in this verse, and of flocks of sheep, as in the following. This may be understood of the sun of persecution that had beat upon her, and had left such impressions on her, and had made her in this hue, and which she bore patiently; nor was she ashamed of it; nor should she be upbraided with it, nor slighted on account of it, see Mat_13:6;

    my mother’s children were angry with me; by whom may be meant carnal professors, members of the same society, externally children of the same mother, pretend to godliness, but are enemies to it: these were “angry” with the church for holding and defending the pure doctrines of the Gospel; for keeping the ordinances as they were delivered; and for faithful reproofs and admonitions to them and others, for their disagreeable walk: and these grieved the church, and made her go mourning, and in black; and more blackened her character and reputation than anything else whatever: though it may be understood of any carnal men, who descend from mother Eve, or spring from mother earth, angry with the church and her members preciseness in religion; and particularly violent persecutors of her, who yet would be thought to be religious, may be intended;

    they made me the keeper of the vineyards; this is another thing that added to her blackness, lying abroad in the fields to keep the “vineyards” of others, by which may be meant false churches, as true ones are sometimes signified by them; and her compliance with their corrupt worship and ordinances, which was not voluntary, but forced; they made me, obliged her, and this increased her blackness; as also what follows;

    but mine own vineyard have I not kept; which made her blacker still; her church state, or the spiritual affairs of her own, her duty and business incumbent on her (d), were sadly neglected by her: and this sin of hers she does not pretend to extenuate by the usage of her mother’s children; but ingenuously confesses the fault was her own, to neglect her own vineyard and keep others, which was greatly prejudicial to her, and was resented by Christ; upon which it seems he departed from her, since she was at a loss to know where he was, as appears from the following words. With the Romans, neglect of fields, trees, and vineyards, came under the notice of the censors, and was not to go unpunished (e).

    Son 1:7 Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth,…. With all her heart, cordially and sincerely; for, notwithstanding her sinful compliance with others, and neglect of her own affairs, she had not lost her love to Christ; and, being sensible of her sin and folly, whereby she was deprived of his company, and communion with him, applies to him to guide, direct, and restore her wandering soul; and particularly inform her

    where thou makest thy flocks to rest at noon, either at the noon of temptation, when Satan’s fiery darts fly thick and fast; when Christ is a shadow and shelter in his person, grace, blood, righteousness, and sacrifice, Isa_25:4; or the noon of affliction, when he makes their bed in it, and gives them rest from adversity; or the noon of persecution, when Christ leads his flocks to cooling shades, and gives them rest in himself, when troubled by others: the allusion, is to shepherds, in hot countries, leading their flocks to some shady place, where they may be sheltered from the scorching heat of the sun; which, as Virgil says (g), was at the fourth hour, or ten o’clock, two hours before noon; we read of προβατια μεσημβριαζοντα (h), sheep nooning themselves, or lying down at noon, under a shade, by a fountain, asleep;


    John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible

    Dr. John Gill (1690-1771)

    • an aspect of the gill interpretation that caught my eye
      was the particular kind of guilt
      that might be attributed to the dark woman…

      they made me the keeper of the vineyards; this is another thing that added to her blackness, lying abroad in the fields to keep the “vineyards” of others, by which may be meant false churches, as true ones are sometimes signified by them; and her compliance with their corrupt worship and ordinances, which was not voluntary, but forced; they made me, obliged her, and this increased her blackness; as also what follows;

      but mine own vineyard have I not kept; which made her blacker still; her church state, or the spiritual affairs of her own, her duty and business incumbent on her (d), were sadly neglected by her: and this sin of hers she does not pretend to extenuate by the usage of her mother’s children; but ingenuously confesses the fault was her own, to neglect her own vineyard and keep others, which was greatly prejudicial to her, and was resented by Christ; upon which it seems he departed from her, since she was at a loss to know where he was, as appears from the following words. With the Romans, neglect of fields, trees, and vineyards, came under the notice of the censors, and was not to go unpunished (e).

      and now this might apply to 2 of the character types that are connected with the 5 senses , of which in other comments i think i have made mention..

      two as in the book
      core energetics
      that are mainly fear based
      versus pride or will based mainly

      the 2 fear based ones
      are boundary and holding
      in terms others use in the 5 character types
      are schizoid and masochist…
      and what caught my attention
      is that it might be that these types
      are the most driven out of their own selves to fulfill the needs of those who have control over them when they were children…

      i still have to find any information in my searches on identifying more specifically who the 5 are… in the luke passage of 3 against 2
      other than son father in law stuff

      now what gill suggests is the closets i have thus far found…

      three against two, and two against three; three that did not believe in Christ, against two that did believe in him; or two that did not believe, against three that did; or three that did, against two that did not; or two that did, against three that did not. The Ethiopic version reads, “two shall be separated from three, and one shall be separated from two”

      i have come to maybe a better sense
      from the clue suggested by the ethiopic version
      the mother in law is the earth and the mother in law of the daughter who marries the son
      and the daughter in law is the wife of the son…
      and respectively are earth and metal elements
      or in terms of character types…the oral type and the masochist type
      and one that is separated from the 2
      could be the disentanglement of the metal element which is perhaps the animal soul within the flesh body
      and to be disentangled from the earth element which is the daughter in law and the flesh body..
      once they are separated from each other the corporeal soul ..in a sense the unresolved subconscious or heart
      that is trapped while in the physical material body can in the physical body that is the glorified soul body
      be integrated with the etheral soul…the wood element which is of the son and its incorporeal soul element…metal
      is as the daughter in law ..the animal soul that is bound in the flesh…the earth element
      once they are separated properly
      then the mind ..son … is fully renewed to its original maturity and purity
      that it possessed before it sinned as in romans 1

      the earth that is derived from water is the intellect of the flesh and ego and that which is needed to be used
      with clarity of mind thus it can and has to function in ways contrary to its contrary ego delusions
      and thus the ego functions as suggested at site shalom something if one googles ego self god
      thus the flesh is where the spirit is in the old testament or the intellect
      and the soul that is the corporeal soul is in the lungs …. perhaps as the oxygenated blood in the lungs..
      and the lungs as the function of grief and sadness are the emotional aspect of soul or the carnal mindedness
      while the earth is the soulish mindedness
      that need resolved before a soul can become fully mature in the word and one with god the father…


      what i might add later is about how what is not the subconscious mind
      in the glorified body is fully conscious and also the soul’s superconscious
      but i need to review that part to make sure i didnt get some things turned around…

      but the fear based character that is metal
      does not have the better functioning fear of god
      i think
      that is in the water element

      and the intellect of the earth element
      does not have the etheric soul mind that is in the wood element…

      okay the computer i am on might not save these comments
      but i should be able to get back to them…
      but if not
      i am gonna have to use comments i am putting them under
      but i think i have it sufficiently in mind
      to reconstruct them:)

      • hmmmm
        the 5 of the household…
        some adjusted considerations..

        the daughter in law
        as from chapter 6 of genesis..
        Gen 6:1 And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them,
        Gen 6:2 That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.
        Gen 6:3 And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.
        Gen 6:4 There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.
        Gen 6:5 And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
        Gen 6:6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.
        Gen 6:7 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.

        THUS THE 2 IN 3 AGAINST 2
        and would be the division of soul and mind into wood and metal..or wood ..ethereal soul and metal ..the corporeal soul..
        and the corporeal soul would be connected to the earth and flesh and tied to the bestial flesh nature tho being not animal flesh but a unique flesh

        1Co 15:39 All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.

        hmmm so now
        from some of my earlier
        comments …
        “two shall be separated from three, and one shall be separated from two”. from the ethiopic bible…

        so what i am thinking is that
        the one being separated from the two is connected with

        1Co 15:50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
        1Co 15:51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
        1Co 15:52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
        1Co 15:53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
        1Co 15:54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.

        namely when the corporeal soul is separated from the earthly flesh one thing that will be resolved is the problem from genesis 6 ..when the sons of god married the daugthers of men…
        and these daughters are as the daughters in law as one of the 5 divided in a household..
        and is the resultant corporaol soul from the sons of god marrying daughter of men…where the soul becomes entangled in an aspect of the corruptible flesh of the earth element… and to find true peace the process of of 3 against 2 in the household that jesus speaks of in luke 12..
        has to happen for things to the soul to achieve peace in its glorified soul body..that is not a material soul body of time and space but transcendant yet still a physical body but not a physical material flesh body…as the psychic edgar cayce suggests…

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