This begins my posting of the “quiet posts” I began writing in November…
There was a venerable tradition in the middle ages of taking “courtly love songs,” popular romantic ballads, and reinterpreting them as spiritual canticles. The underlying idea was that, within the dynamics of deeply felt human love, was a genuine revelation of the meaning of love that binds humanity to God. The biblical Song of Songs is a striking example of this. The Song is a collection of ancient Hebrew erotic love poetry that eventually came to be interpreted by both Jews and Christians as a mystical text of God’s nuptial love for humanity. Take this selection from chapter 7 of the Song — part of a long courtship dialogue of a woman and man — as an example:
Oh, may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, and your kisses like the best wine that goes down smoothly, gliding over lips and teeth. I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me. 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 grape blossoms have opened and the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give you my love.
These verses have received profound, evocative, passionate commentary from the likes of Origen of Alexandria, Gregory the Great, Bernard of Clairvaux and Teresa of Avila. For these saints, these expressive images disclose the mutual yearning of human and divine eros; images that disclose both man and God, in the words of St. Maximus, “long to be longed for, love to be loved and desire to be desired.” Though these saint-commentators don’t make the mistake of sexualizing theology as some interpreters do these days, their bold language does testify with stark eloquence to the genuinely erotic charatcer of love made in God’s image. Eros, which refers to the desire for total union with another, finds its perfection in the covenant of total self-gift found only in marital union; and marital union is, in the Scriptures, the supreme analogy of God’s union with humanity at the consummation of the ages (cf Ephesians 5:25-32; Revelation 21:1-2)
All that makes me think of a tangentially related example of discovering God in unlikely songs. I often reflect on music in light of this “allegorizing” tradition, and sometimes experience graced insights to great personal effect. I recall last Fall at our parish festival, my wife and I were listening to a local band and dancing. My wife makes me love dancing, though no one can ever make me good at it. They started to play Swedish House Mafia’s, Don’t You Worry Child, which actually includes some explicitly religious imagery. As they sang the chorus, I experienced an overwhelming awareness of God’s provident love that burned itself into a deep sadness I had had much of the Fall at the thought of my children growing up and leaving. The effect remained for weeks and weeks.
So here’s the song if you care to receive it through my perspective…or yours: