Note: New Jerusalem Bible translation used throughout.
My love affair, so to speak, with the Song of Songs began in the seminary during a retreat held about one month into my first theology year.
Prior to seminary, I was a teacher and Religion Department chairman for 12 years at a small Catholic school. These were perhaps the happiest years of my life. But the call to priesthood was always present, even if only in the background.
I had entered a religious order after high school, but after 6 years of homophobia, I left. Upon attempting to enter the diocesan priesthood in my home state, I was thwarted repeatedly by my formed order for reasons never told to me. “Confidentiality” was the reason given. “Justice” was the virtue denied. So began my 12 year sojourn, not in a desert, but an oasis where the needs and struggles and joys of adolescence instructed me, challenged me to grow in my theological and relational outlook. God became larger, breaking out of the narrow confines I had unknowingly secluded her in. Eventually, in 1996, through the intervention of my dear, departed bishop, the old file on me was destroyed, and I was accepted into the seminary.
Now, one month into the program, I found myself alone in the chapel, asking Jesus to help me love him as he desired to be loved by me. There, in the silence, a voice within me said to read the Song of Songs. I knew of the book, but had never given this song of heterosexual love much thought. So I flipped to the book and began to read and read and re-read, and finally wept for joy! This is what I had been looking for. This book, with minor adjustments for gender consideration, contained the depth of intimacy that had been missing in my relationship with Jesus. Love had always been there, but herein my hands was a call , passionate and erotic, to an even deeper love.
I offer the following meditations out of a deeply humbling appreciation for the love and compassionate patience Jesus has shown me. May these words on the Song of Songs, in the end, be multiple ways of saying “I love you” to him whose passion for me, for all of us, fragile words can scarcely convey.
1:2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mounth, for your love-making is sweeter than wine.
A kiss, the most basic and universal expression of love, caring, friendship and passion. Here, the Beloved specifies that she wants the kisses of his mouth. She does not want safety. She does not want a sterile expression of affection. She desires to be sated only by his lips. This kiss will be the prelude to the symphony of love-making more intoxicating and delicious to know than the taste of the sweetest wine.
Jesus earnestly desires to make love to us. For GLBT people, who live our lives constantly being told that the means by which we physically demonstrate our love and longing for another human being is “sick,” “immoral,” and “disordered,” this revelation of divine intimate longing is at once both jarring and liberating. It means that my sexuality is known and accepted by Jesus. It means that my sexuality poses no threat to him, no cause for anxiety, shame, guilt or fear. It means that through my sexuality, through what others deem “ungodly,” Jesus wishes to come into my life. Through my sexuality, he wants me to experience him, to know his tenderness, his caresses, his embrace.
“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.” The next line begins, “For your love-making…”Is the Beloved seeking permission from someone when she says “Let him”? If so, from who?
Perhaps she is speaking to herself, and this exclamation is a reminder for her, after a possible absence from her Lover, exactly why he is her Lover; because of the sweet, all-encompassing nature of his love. She is reminding, urging herself, to once again allow herself to be loved, to return and drink deeply of his love for her. Maybe the need for some kind of re-commitment to that love is necessary if their relationship is to remain as passionate and intimate as it has been (how else would she know his love-making was sweeter than wine?).
Our relationship with Jesus must be entered into afresh daily, not starting over from scratch, but consciously embraced each day so as to avoid the threat of the cold and the rote, the very real danger of taking Jesus for granted.
1:3 Delicate is the fragrance of your perfume, your name is an oil poured out.
The name and person of Jesus, so often used to justify our oppression, is, in truth, a soothing, healing oil for our wounds, wounds most often inflicted by religion and society.
It is truly a blessing to be able to love another. And when someone has become an integral part of our lives, there is nothing about them that does not serve to stoke the flames of love: their walk, the sound of their voice, their laughter, the gentleness of their breathing in sleep, even their scent. The smell of the Beloved can trigger memories and bring desire and comfort. But his requires a willingness to be intimate and allow the other access to Our lives, our souls. It requires that we run the risk of being vulnerable. It is this access that Jesus needs and desires of us in order that the oil of his presence can calm, refresh, and begin to heal the wounds of fear and internalized homophobia that can so easily and unknowingly find their way into even the seemingly most integrated heart.
1:3 Your name is [perfume] poured out.
Just saying a lover’s name brings them to mind. Every movement of their body, every look, every memory. Their eyes glow brightly once more, their touch quivers the flesh with delight, their voice calms and excites, all because of the simple, yet profound power of mentioning their name.
How much more so should it be with Jesus? Jesus, “Yeshua,” “God saves.” But how has he saved us? “The Word became flesh and lived among us. He saves us by becoming us, in every way but that which renders us less than what we were called to be and created to be: children of a loving, prodigal God. He became like us in all things but sin.
His becoming human and embracing our enfleshed reality has thus saved and sanctified us. The body is no longer a source of shame, disgrace, or derision, for it is through a fragile, beautiful human body that God most intimately touched the world she called into being. Through footstep and spittle, through words and sighs, through the baptismal liquids of river water and carpenter’s blood. both the earth and its’ inhabitants have been touched, hallowed, saved. And the mystery of it all is present to us whenever the name of Jesus is uttered with the affection of a Lover for their Beloved.
1:4 Draw me in your footsteps, let us run. The king has brought me into his rooms; you will be our joy and our gladness. We shall praise your love more than wine; how right it is to love you.
In coming to truly know Jesus, the important thing is to allow oneself to be drawn by him; not so much to grasp the hand of Jesus Christ, but to have the courage to be grasped by him! The Beloved says to her Lover, “Let us run.” Yet all too often we spend our time running away from rather than with Jesus. I believe one reason for this is that we rarely are helped to believe that we are loved by him who wishes to be “our joy and our gladness.” It is very difficult to hear the good news of love sweeter than wine while being constantly assailed by the cacophony of words dripping bitter gall. But Jesus assures us that he will never turn anyone away who comes to him. How can he? He still bears reminders of the depth of his love, even in his glorified body, reminders in his wrists, feet, side, and back. That is how far he is willing to go for our love. And those wounds should be enough for us to exclaim, “How right it is to love you.”
Tom Yeshua is the pen name of Thomas E.L. Cloutier OFS, a transitional deacon who taught theology for 30 years at Nashua (N.H.) Catholic Regional Junior High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Don Bosco College in Newton, N.J., and a master’s in divinity and theology from St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Mass.