Note: New Jerusalem Bible translation used throughout.
2:3 In his delightful shade I sit, and his fruit is sweet to my taste.
It may appear to be a strange question, but why do we sit in the shade? Because the sun at times is too much to deal with without protection, at least for awhile. Once refreshed, we leave the shade and continue on.
There are times when the pounding of the world’s heat can be as harsh and spirit-wilting as the summer sun. The common inconvenience of a bad day at work or the mischief of lively children, or simply too much to do in too little time are annoying. But then there are the blistering effects of stinging prejudice, the diagnosis of a terminal illness, the painful ending of a relationship, and the searing cold of a loved one’s death. Alone, each of these are a challenge to handle, at the very least. When they begin to cluster, they can be devastating. Where does one go for relief or a modicum of refreshment?
In verse 3, the Beloved is compared to “an apple tree among the trees of the wood.” He stands out because of his ability to give fruit, to nourish by his very presence and thus sustain life, whereas shade is all the other trees of the wood can offer. While shade from the sun is important, you eventually have to leave or you never get anywhere. With the fruit of the apple tree, your hunger and thirst are abated while you rest and restore your strength.
Jesus says in Matthew’s gospel, “Come to me, all you who labor and find life a burden, and I will refresh you.” (Mt 11:28) Among all the “trees ofthe wood” that present themselves as having a method or technique to solve life’s problems and revive our souls, only Jesus offers HIMSELF, like the fruit of the apple tree, to provide the strength we need. His undying, unchanging love is there to shade us against the harshness of a society that has forgotten how to love. His body and blood are freely given to all who hunger and thirst. Not only is the shade given by Jesus “delightful,” but the refreshment of his love is sweet indeed.
2:6 His left arm is under my head, his right embraces me.
Those of us blessed with ever having a lover in a sustained, committed relationship, free from the impersonal coldness of a one night stand, know the joy of having one in whose eyes we find acceptance, love, compassion, and gentleness. We know only too well how deeply comforting it is to lie in our beloved’s embrace. The world is shut out there, the hatred and phobias and ignorance are held at bay.
And so it can be with Jesus. To imagine yourself in the passionate embrace of Jesus, the embrace of him who is both friend and lover, can be jarring for some. We have centered so much on his divinity, with all the noble titles that accompany it, that we have failed to remember Jesus the Human, Jesus the Man.
Surely Jesus, too, needed to be loved as well as love. That is why ingratitude and betrayal and religious bigotry hurt him deeply, and why faith and trust allowed him to reach deeply into people’s lives and raise a mirror to their eyes, revealing what potential was there for beauty and greatness. This same Jesus still desires to hold us, to embrace his Beloved. In his arms we find freedom. In his arms we find protection and security. In the arms of Jesus we rediscover ourselves while looking into the eyes of him who loved us to the point of death, and who will allow no one and nothing to snatch us from his hands, let alone his arms, wrapped tightly around us.
2:7 I charge you… by all gazelles and wild does, do not rouse, do not wake my beloved before she pleases.
It takes a great deal of effort at times to be gay, to keep personal dignity and integrity intact in the face of so much opposition. It can be very draining and emotionally taxing. Where do we go to be renewed and refreshed? Where do we retreat when “the world is too much with us”? For some, solace is found in a bottle, for others it is the powder or pill. Others search for fulfillment and comfort in anonymous sexual encounters, devoid of love, real passion, and authentic humanity. But there remains yet another source of refuge for us.
In the previous verse, we were surrounded by the arms of Jesus, our Beloved. Now he declares, “Do not wake my Beloved before she pleases.” When life presses down upon us, when our strength is spent and our spirits are stretched to the breaking point, we can turn to Jesus with all that burdens us. It is not our sexuality that is burdensome, but the hostility born of ignorance and fear. It is always easier when we suffer to approach for help someone who understands because they have been there. Jesus has walked in our shoes. In a real sense he knows what it is like to be gay. His understanding of himself and his mission was so misunderstood that his neighbors tried to throw him off a cliff. Many stopped walking with him. One he considered a friend, a hand-picked companion, sold him to his enemies, while another publicly declared that Jesus had had no influence on his life at all, one time for each year he walked with him. His remaining companions left him to face his enemies alone, all except one man and a handful of women. And his enemies, spurred on by fear, jealousy, and a myopic view of God and country, nailed his bashed and broken body to a cross and sighed with relief that orthodoxy was preserved, the nation saved, and power maintained.
But then came Sunday morning! An empty tomb, discarded grave clothes, and greetings of “Peace be with you” for those who wept for him and felt lost and disillusioned.
Jesus is not simply some kindly, dead Jewish prophet; a “nice guy” who ran afoul of authority. Jesus is very much alive! He has walked through the darkness gay people know only too well. And when we find it too difficult to carry on and are tempted to give in to the voices of emptiness and death. he is more than willing to once more take his Beloved into his strong arms and carry them, hold them, and breathe back into their tired souls the breath of life, carried on “the kisses of his mouth.”
2:8 I hear my love. See how he comes leaping on the mountains, bounding over the hills. My love is like a gazelle, like a young stag.
In the ancient world, the gazelle and the stag were animals known for great sexual desire. The Beloved describes her Lover as one like these sexually-charged animals as he crosses the mountains and hills to be with her. He longs to be with his Beloved with an eagerness no obstacle can impede. She can hear him and calls attention to him.
Jesus longs for us with just such an impassioned desire. Yet even in his desiring an intimate relationship with us, there are still mountains and hills that can separate us. There are, of course, the all too familiar mountains of hostility that surround us, erected by a fearful, misinformed society. But what of the hills, the hills of poor self-image, hills of reacting to the pain of homophobia in self-destructive ways? There are hills we raise to protect ourselves from further abuse, keeping real, deep relationships at arms length, settling for the transitory joys of sex without commitment. The hills of hardness of heart that strive to push God further and further away because both the image and the word of God have been used to bludgeon and curse us, rather than comfort, heal and challenge us to love and growth.
2:10 My love lifts up his voice, he says to me, ‘Come then, my beloved, my lovely one, come. For see, winter is past, the rains are over and gone.’
Now our Lover speaks to us and bids us to come with him. But it is to no impersonal individual that the request is made. We are addressed As “My Beloved, My Lovely One.” This is enough to make one stand in muted awe. The Son of God calls me “Beloved.” The Savior of the World sees me as his “lovely one.”
The author of Psalm 8 asks “What are human beings that you spare a thought for them, or the children of Adam that you care for them?” When faced with the offer of such unbelievable love, we too may ask the same question: Who am I That you should love me with such intensity? We know we are sinners, broken and bruised, breakers and bruisers. How often do we oppress each other through “outing” or looking down our collective noses at those still closeted? How often do we allow homophobia around us to lead us into hating and distrusting? Do we use others to satisfy our needs, with no thought to their humanity, their uniqueness? We believe in our sins easily enough. Yet it is just as true to say we are also the Beloved of Jesus Christ, and it is the balance between our blessedness and our brokenness that must be struck.
Jesus says to each of us, “My lovely one, come to me. The time of winter waiting is at an end. The rains that have scalded you with depression and blinded your eyes to the beauty I see in you, are over. Let my love warm your wintery soul, unleashing the flowers of new life I long to give you. Come then, my Beloved, come close and see how I love you in your weakness, your strength, your potential and your beauty. All of your being is carved forever in my hands and upon my heart. You are mine…forever!”
2:14 My dove… show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet and your face is lovely.
Such tenderness is almost overwhelming, yet we long for more, much like the act of love-making can grow so intense we want it to end, still thirsty for the intimacy it provides. I do not know anyone who ever tires of being told they are loved. Here love is fanned, not by an action, but simply by being. To look at the face of the Beloved, to listen to their voice speaking of love and devotion. What could be sweeter?
Jesus asks us to show him our face, to turn to him and speak to him, because the sound of our voice is sweet to his ears. In short, he wants us to pray. And what is prayer? Simply put, it is loving conversation between two friends. The key here is “conversation” — one speaks while the other listens, then the speaker listens for the reply. The strange thing about prayer is that, unfortunately, we have the first part of the equation down well enough. It is the second we struggle with. So, often our prayer time degenerates into “monologue time.” Can you imagine how frustrating it would be to love someone intensely, and every time you tried to tell them how deeply you loved them, they either turned away or began talking over you? We would not stand for it very long. But Jesus is patient. Eventually the more time we spend with him, the more comfortable with him we become, and the more comfortable and nourishing are the silences wherein he speaks.
But this plea of Jesus is his Beloved’s plea also. We want him to show us his face and allow us to hear the sweet tones of his voice. And he readily obliges, yet we do not take notice. We have a “Cecil B. DeMille” mentality — looking for lightning and thunder and deep booming voices from overcast skies. Thus we miss noticing the face of Jesus mirrored in the nurses and doctors who lovingly care for people with AIDS, the face of Jesus found in a lover’s face, the faces of family and friends who accept us. The look of forgiveness from one we have hurt. The voice of Jesus is heard in every word of support and encouragement, in every word of love and desire, in every pet name, in every challenge to grow and become all that God intends us to be.
The voice of Jesus calmed the raging storm that threatened to swamp his apostle’s boat. He can calm the many storms that try to drag us under also. His voice raised the dead, and calls us to exit our tombs. The sweetness of his voice was recognized in his Easter greeting of “shalom” to his friends’ anguished souls. His voice also cried out from the cross in abandonment and grief, and echoes today in the strangled please of the frightened, the lonely, the battered and confused.
Listen closely. He speaks to you now.
2:16 My love is mine and I am his.
Jesus did not come and walk among us because he needed a change of scenery! He came because we were in need. We had lost our way, we were settling for less than we were created for. So “THE WORD BECAME FLESH AND LIVED AMONG US.” And Jesus lives among us still. He is ours and we are his, regardless of what some of us would believe. We belong to Jesus because we are bought and paid for with his sweat and tears and precious blood. As St. Paul reminds us, “You have been bought at a price.” (1 Cor. 7:23)
My Lover is mine because I needed him to show me who I really am. I am his because I still need his direction, his guidance and his love to remain truly his Beloved. He is mine because in him I have life and undying, unchanging love. I am his because my existence is proof that I am not a simple fluke of nature, nor am I some mere mistake, aberration or disordered being in the universe. I am a beloved gay man, whose existence was longed for and planned for with a purpose in mind. At the very least, I am here because it pleases my Beloved Jesus and gives him great delight. And that is enough for me, and the same can be said for each of you!
The truth is, we are very dear to the heart of God! Isaiah the prophet declared in God’s name, “I shall not forget you. Look, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:16) This poetic description of God’s love became a living, breathing reality when the nails of the executioners were plunged into the hands of Jesus, our Lover. Now and forever, his love for us is engraved into his glorified body. He offered these signs of love to Thomas to examine for himself, as if proof of the resurrection is proclaimed in every wound that assaulted (bashed) his body. And these very wounds cry out to every gay child of God to rise up, and with open minds and hearts, greet the one who bounds over all obstacles in order to express his undying love for them. They cry out for us to come and examine them, and therein, find ourselves.
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.