Thursday, August 30, 2012

Surfaces and Shadows

Passion, God Style – Part 2

Reading Song of Songs has not been an easy ride for me. I’ve struggled with the sexual imagery as an allegory of our relationship with God.  God as loving, protective father and provider – yes, I get that.  God as my passionate lover – not so much.  As such, I’ve had to struggle past my inhibitions in order to hear God speak to me as I read.  I’ve tried to allow the Word, which the writer to the Hebrews describes as “alive and active”, to teach me – Spirit to spirit. I’ll share with you some of what I’ve been seeing.

Consuming Passion
The relationship narrative we find in The Song of Songs is both romantic and robust.  The couple admire one another’s beautiful qualities and, at times, are almost overcome with the intensity of their feelings.  Their story has a certain rhythm to it.  They spend time together and then they go off to do other things; they lose track of each other, search diligently and then – oh, the joy of finding the beloved one again! They embrace and make love, tenderly and with sweet passion.

Sometimes they meet at night, in gardens full of delightful fragrances.  At other times, they walk in the sunlight, in fruitful vineyards abundant with springtime stirrings of life. Their love is heated and intense.

“Love flashes like fire,
the brightest kind of flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
Nor can rivers drown it.” (8:6,7)

If this is a picture of God and his people, of Christ and his Bride, then what are we to make of it? What does the young couple’s body and soul passion for each other have to do with how God relates to us?  God is spirit, not flesh. He isn’t subject to the body’s needs like we are.  Granted, we do have spirits and can commune with him on that level, but surely the physical passion that is so intrinsic to the Song of Songs relationship does not apply.  Or does it?

What Lies Beneath
There is something about a loving, passionate human marriage that reflects the manner of relationship that God wishes to have with flesh and spirit people. It is a metaphor that pops up throughout both Old and New Testaments.

The word “shadows” comes to mind, as I recall something the writer to the Hebrews said.  He was describing how the temple in Jerusalem, centre of worship for God’s people Israel, had to be built to God’s exact specifications.  Why? It was meant to be an earthly, surface representation or pattern of something spiritual. “They [Israel] serve in a system of worship that is only a copy, a shadow of the real one in heaven.” The same went for the Law of Moses. “The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves.” (Heb. 8:5; 10:1)

Could the relationship described in The Song be a shadow cast by a greater reality - one that we are not yet able to see or grasp fully?  I think so.  Life is full of surfaces and shadows. 

For example, think about the ocean.  We may sit on a beach and watch waves roll to shore or ride across the surface in a boat and feel the swell lift us up and down.  Unless we’ve gone deep sea diving or read some marine biology books, we will not be aware of the world down there, in the depths where creatures and sea plants move with the currents, eating and being eaten, living and dying.

Or consider my computer desk.  It sits in one spot and looks solid and still – the perfect place to hold a heavy monitor.  And yet, at the atomic level it is bursting with movement.  Physicists have developed elaborate machines to try and chart the relationships between electrons and protons, quarks and neutrinos as they interact in mysterious ways...attracting, repelling, appearing, disappearing; one darting, the other moving like a wave through space and time.  It’s a kind of dance that is hidden to the naked eye but is the reality within the chunks of wood that have been shaped and fastened together to form my desk.

Which world is more real – what I perceive with my senses or what goes on under the surface?  One could say that the atomic level reality underpins and informs the surface world of things.  Can it be that the loving and passionate union of the bride and groom in Song of Songs is merely the surface expression of a much deeper reality? It seems that there is more to life than meets the eye or the particle accelerator.

Spiritual Reality
We can’t see or touch God but his Word says that in him we live and move and have our being. He is in all, through all and over all. Perhaps I could say that God IS reality. How do we, who perceive through our five senses, develop a passionate love relationship with such a being?  Perhaps there is another “sense” that resides somewhere in our innermost selves – some hidden part of us that slumbers in the darkness until, at just the right time, God’s love enters in and awakens it.  Am I ready to be roused in this manner?

I think about how difficult it is to grasp or even accept the depth of God’s love for me. Dare I allow the Creator of the universe to pierce the darkness and come into my hidden place?  Part of me cringes, not wanting to be known in that way. And yet, one day a verse in Song of Songs leapt out of the page and into my heart.  The young king is speaking to his beloved, extolling her beauty.  And then he says:  “Turn your eyes away, for they overpower me.” (Ch. 6, vs. 5)  He is undone by what he sees in her eyes, the windows of her soul.

What God sees in the gaze of his beloved ones – you and me – moves him greatly. Our divine Lover longs for our presence like the young man does for his bride in Song of Songs. There is something about his people, flawed as we may be, that is very beautiful to him and moves him to search passionately for us when we are lost and can’t find our way home. And still, we find it difficult to accept this kind of intimacy that sees us so clearly. We may, in our hearts, cry out, “Turn your eyes away, for they overpower me.”   

Marriage, God Style
It takes courage to push past shadows and explore hidden depths.  It is no small thing to expose our inner beings to the divine Lover. However, we are not alone in this quest.  Jesus walks with us along the way, showing us how to love and be loved in return.  He knows what it’s like to be flesh and spirit, to entwine both realities so that the two become one.  Jesus, Son of man and Son of God, is a suitable Bridegroom who will ensure that we become the most radiant, confident and beloved Bride in all creation. 

Can you picture that? It’s not easy because the Bride is hidden in the shadows of church buildings and cafes, ghettos and Twitter feeds.  She’s the real thing, though, and her husband is waiting for her.

~ ~ ~

"Love is the only way to grasp another being in the innermost core of his personality.”

~ Viktor Frankl, Man's Search For Meaning ~