Note: New Jerusalem Bible translation used throughout.
4:15 How beautiful you are, my beloved, how beautiful you are!
There is perhaps no more thrilling a sound that the voice of a loved one telling us how much we are loved by them. Perhaps this is most important to gay and lesbian people. In a world where angry words are hurled at us with self-righteous abandon, chipping away at our sense of self, to hear our lover’s words of desire for us, to feel their touch, their longing for our beauty, is a much needed balm.
Beauty, however, is a tricky word. When we describe someone as “beautiful.” what exactly do we mean? Physical beauty only? Certainly the sight of a beautiful body is a joy, a God-given blessing. Yet how often do the images in skin magazines or videos color our perception of what real beauty should be. If my pecs do not bulge or my abs are not as rippling as they once were (if they ever were!), if my sexual endowment and prowess seems dwarfed by the glossy, paper models, and my “folically challenged” state increases daily, does all this mean I am not beautiful? Certainly we are all attracted to our “types.” and physical attractiveness and attraction is no vice. But if it remains on that level, then the vital, complex, loveable human being created from the mind and hand of a variety-loving God, is reduced to a collection of body parts, parts that will, one day, no matter how many trips to the gym or bottles of Rogain or Viagra, break down and eventually turn to dust.
I have been privileged to meet many beautiful people for whom lack of apparent physical attractiveness was overshadowed by a deep beauty of soul. I regularly brought Holy Communion to a little Scottish woman named Bea. Severe arthritis had left her hands gnarled and her body wheelchair-bound. Yet when I entered her tiny apartment, she would be working at a crossword puzzle or watching a PBS cooking show or knitting winter caps for the charitable outreach program of a local church. It did not matter what denomination you belonged to. If you were in need, Bea was there doing whatever she could. And I looked forward to meeting with her each week because, though her body had been ravaged, her mind was sharp, her wit quick, and her ever-present smile infectious. She truly was one of the most beautiful people I have ever been blessed to know.
We must expand our understanding of “beauty.” We must clarify our vision of our own beauty, realizing that it does not reside only in the body, but in the heart and spirit that, once ravished by the Beloved, must go ut and share that love through word and action.
4:9 You ravish my heart… you ravish my heart with a single one of your glances.
What a terrific word to describe how a lover’s love affects us… RAVISH, defined by Webster as “to overcome with emotion.” It is part of the non-verbal communication between lovers that is so delicious. With just a lok you know how your lover feels: amorous, sad, joyous, contemplative, troubled. To look deeply into another’s eyes and want to not just swim in them byt to be totally engulfed by them. And when that longing is fulfilled, friend, you have indeed been ravished!
Jesus says to us, “You have ravished my heart, my brother, my sister, with your eyes. You have captured my heart with words only eyes can truthfully speak.” When do we do such a wonderful thing as to ravish the heart of the Son of God? I believe it is when we finally trust him and in his care for us.
“Thy will be done” is a thought all too often voiced as a form of “I give up.” But if I believe, truly believe, that Jesus loves me, that I have been chosen to be his Lover, then trust must flow from that, or else any relationship will be superficial. How can you spend your days with someone who does not trust you when you declare your love? How can you relate to someone who doubts what you say or questions your motives? You cannot.
In Mark’s gospel (9:17-24), a father approaches Jesus and begs him to heal his demon-possessed son. In his grief, he says, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” Jesus’ reply is quite direct. “If you can? Everything is possible for one who believes.” Then, in one last gasp of hope, the father responds, “I do believe, help my unbelief.”
Trust and belief are never easy to hold on to. It is hard at times to trust someone in whose name so many have mocked and harassed and even killed us. It is hard to believe that any god can come from a loved one’s death, or a break-up of a relationship, the loss of a job, of family support, of friendship. With all the homophobic rhetoric, it is hard to believe that Jesus could really love me. But once you have allowed yourself to look deeply into his eyes as I have done (though not often enough) and been ravished by him, belief in his love and trust in his care for you will begin to grow. For in our trust, in our belief, no matter how fragile or small, we ravish the heart of Jesus Christ. And who could be indifferent to that?
4:12-15 [My love] is a garden enclosed… a sealed fountain. Your shoots form an orchard of pomegranate trees, bearing most exquisite fruit: nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all the incense-bearing trees; myrrh and aloes, with the subtlest odors. Fountain of the garden, well of living water, streams flowing down from Lebanon!
Here the Lover speaks of his Beloved in imagery far removed from the most of us. Fountains and lush gardens filled with fruits and aromatic herbs are not part of our everyday lives. Yet all those beautiful images are ways of saying that the life and love of his Beloved is all his.
Each one of us is like a garden that must be well tended. We are filled with life and potential and are jealously possessed by a loving God. Ironic that, for years, gay people have been put down with the epithet “fruit.” But what fruit do we as gay and lesbian people bear? We have choices for the yield of our inner garden. We can allow the weeds of hatred and anger to choke back fruitfulness. We can nurture the thorns that spring from the roots of homophobic talk which plunge deeply into our already wounded heart, making the soil of the soul bitter and foul. We can block up the fountain of life-giving water with stones and gravel of selfishness and superficiality and resentment. Thus we can stand amid the rubble that we, not those who misunderstand us, have created. Or we can nurture the fruit of forgiveness toward those who hate us. We can choose to prune our lives with self-discipline so as to truly love, not only our lovers, but family and friends and those God will enrich our lives with. We can choose to let the fountain of life-giving water, that has its source in the wounded heart of Jesus, to burst forth and show the world that gay and lesbian lovers of Jesus Christ know how to live and love and nurture both love and life.
We belong to Jesus, that is the bottom line. Before we can walk with him in the world, we must be comfortable lying with him in the garden of our heart. Is your garden a place of peaceful respite with your Beloved? Or is a little gardening in order?
5:2-3 I sleep, but my heart is awake. I hear my love knocking, ‘open to me… my beloved, my dove, my perfect one, for my head is wet with dew, my hair with the drops of night.’
— ‘I have taken off my tunic, am I to put it on again?’
My love thrusts his hand through the hole in the door; I trembled to the core of my being.
Her lover now stands outside her door and pleads, with bedewed hair, for admittance. For some reason she decides to play games with him. She coyly announces that she has removed her tunic (hence she is ready for love). Her feet have been washed (“feet” being a Hebrew euphemism for genitals”). So here she lies, prepared and longing for love-making. The sight of his hand causes her to tremble with desire. But she does not let him in.
In the Book of Revelation, Jesus says, “Look, I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in and share a meal at that person’s side.” Our Lover stands at the door of our heart, like a gentleman, unwilling to force himself and his love upon his Beloved. He stands there, his hair wet with the moisture of longing and desire. Yet so often we keep him waiting, playing games with our frustrated Lover. But unlike the Lover in the Song, it is not a matter of being ready for his love-making. We keep him waiting because we are afraid or too hurt or too consumed with self to open the door.
Whenever I read the Revelation passage, I am reminded of my 16-year-old self, too battered and blind to even find the door so as to allow Jesus entrance. I did not allow myself to be ravished because I believed the lie that I was not worthy. But my Lover was oh so patient. Though I eventually opened the door for all the wrong reasons, he came in, dressed his table, kissed me “with the kisses of his mouth,” and has remained by my side ever since.
Jesus remains at the door, pleading with us to open. His love is nothing to play games with. In a world where true love is in short supply, none of us can afford to let him, who is love itself, stay outside, bathed in the dew of our indifference.
5:9 What makes your lover better than other lovers?
The old adage says, “Love is blind.” If you look around at couples you can see the truth of this observation. I have watched people in malls and restaurants and have asked myself what is some of these folks see in each other. Physically there does not seem to be much that would attract someone to another. Then I have to catch myself, remembering one man in my life who found the likes of me quite to his liking and remained with me on and off for 5 years. There is some “thing” within us that, once captured by another, colors all aspects of our humanity in their eyes: physical, spiritual, emotional, making us desirable to them and acceptable to ourselves.
So what is there about Jesus Christ that would cause gay and lesbian people to throw our lot in with him? What is there about this man that would cause those oppressed in his name to search him out and cling to him? Two words… HIS LOVE.
His love impelled him to come to us in the first place. St. Paul tells us, “Though in the form of God, Jesus did not count equality with God something to be grasped. But he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are.” (Phil 2:6-7) Jesus did not cling to his position as Son of God in the face of the need of his sisters and brothers. So he came to us in the fragile, non-threatening flesh of an infant. He grew from child to gangly adolescent and underwent all the accompanying changes and feelings and drives. He worked with his back and hands, wiped sweat from his brow, enjoyed food and friends, gazed in wonder at the evening skies, suffered a parent’s death, and knew there was more to do than remain in the safety of his hometown. Thus he was baptized into the human condition of the poor and outcast, the struggling and the labeled. Jesus saw beneath labels on people and simply saw people. He fearlessly spoke out against injustice, confronting those who used God as a cudgel, while tenderly speaking to the broken and searching.
“He was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.” (Phil 2: 8). Opposition to him rose to a fevered pitch, corrupting one friend into selling him out to his enemies, another to deny Jesus touched his life at all, and scattering the rest in a fearful search for safety. Jesus was taken, beaten to shreds, pushed and prodded to the place of execution, stripped naked and alone before hate-filled eyes, and tacked up like a bloodied rag. Jesus never “fell” in love with us. It was a decision, lived each day of his life and ratified with blood and nails and rough-hewn boards. And his empty tomb trumpets the joyful news that this passionate man, the love of God, in human flesh, is with us and for us still. This is why he is better than all other lovers. His love never waxes or wanes. It’s searing heat still warms, still comforts, still breathes life and calls us to greatness. That is my Lover, our Lover, Jesus!
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.