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Monday, August 13, 2012

Christ, the Fairest of all Men II: Song of Songs


In a previous post, I began writing an exposition on the Song of Songs, one of the poetic books in the Bible. I stopped at the third verse. This entry is a continuation of that post, and it consists of verses four, five, six and seven of the first chapter of that Book.

Christ and His Church: let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth

As I previously noted, the Song of Songs is a poem written in a form of a romantic conversation between two lovers, the Bride and her Bridegroom. Figuratively, the poem explains the relationship between an individual soul (or the Church in its entirety) and Christ, “the fairest of all men.”

Take me away with you – let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers. We rejoice and delight in you; we will praise your love more than wine. How right they are to adore you!

After tasting the profound love of her Bridegroom, the Bride now wishes to immerse herself further in that love. She implores her lover to “take” her “away with” Him.  She wants to leave everything behind and join her lover. This is an answer to a call that is made by the Bridegroom. Christ invites his Bride to “go into” her “room” and “close the door” behind her for a moment of solitude where the encounter between the two lovers is facilitated (Mathew 6:6). In response to this invitation, the Bride says, “take me away.” In other words, “yes, I will go into my private room where no prying eyes will disturb us. Take me to wherever you are and bring me closer to you.” The object of the sentence changes from a singular pronoun to a plural one to signify the Bride’s personal relationship with Christ as well as the communal nature of this relationship, One Church, many souls.  Moreover, the level of intimacy deepens as She begs her lover to “bring” her “into his chambers,” or to take her to his bedroom.  Of course, in this bedroom, there is not going to be sexual activity, but rather a spiritual union. If the Bride is the human soul and the Bridegroom is Christ, then their union is accomplished through the act of prayer.  Rather than bodily pleasure, the result of this union is spiritual delight whereby the soul’s desire is fully satisfied and nourished.  The lower appetites become diminished and the physical senses are suspended. They are replaced by an immense thirst for yet a deeper union with the Divine essence, which is accomplished only through Christ. The effect of this union also has a physical dimension as well.  The heart is at complete peace, while serenity and tranquility take over the mind. God created humanity for this purpose, to rejoice and delight in this encounter with the Creator of all Beauty.  Occupied with this delightful exchange, the Bride recognizes the rectitude of her Bridegroom’s lovers, “they are right to adore you.”  Instead of expressing jealousy over the multitudinous lovers, She expresses her sympathy and agreement with them because no virgin can behold the immaculate gaze of this Bridegroom and remain uninterested.     

Dark am I, yet lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, dark like the tents of Kedar, like the tent curtains of Solomon.

The Bride recognizes her physical imperfections. She realizes she is not perfect. Fortunately, these imperfections are only skin deep. They do not penetrate her inner beauty and affect her virtuous soul.  Even though she is “dark” on the outside, she is still “lovely” and beautiful in the inside.  Beauty is redefined here. It is not the physical quality or proportionate arrangement of facial features. Instead, it is the virtuosity of the spirit that “shine[s]” on the Bride’s countenance “like the sun” and makes her look “lovely” (Mathew 13:43). She compares herself to the “dark tents of Kedar.” These tents are made of black goat hair that helps absorb heat during the cold winter months, keeping the inside of the tent warm and cozy.  Likewise, the Bride’s unattractive features keep her humble and modest to the extent that she appears “lovely” despite her physical imperfections.  During the summer months, the “dark tents” provide shade from the hot sun. Similarly, the Bride’s physical imperfections prevent pride, vainglory and self-worship from entering her heart and rendering her wrathful, lustful, envious, gluttonous, greedy and slothful.

Do not stare at me because I am dark, because I am darkened by the sun. My mother’s sons were angry with me and made me take care of the vineyards; my own vineyard I have neglected.

While speaking to the “daughters of Jerusalem,” the Bride turns their attention away from her exterior unappealing looks. She is “darkened by the sun,” or she has been exposed to elements for a long while. The “sun” represents all the temporal allurements and worldly cares that often keep us occupied and too busy to seek God, the source of all comfort. The reason for her coarse and unrefined features is that her “mother’s sons” are “angry” with her. They make her “take care of the vineyards,” which is a task that is rough and daunting on her body. The “vineyards” must be worked for a financial gain or a steady income.  Meanwhile, her “own vineyards,” or her spiritual needs, are “neglected” and uncared for. Her earthly relations do not care about her spiritual needs. Instead, their purpose is to use her to harvest financial benefits and reap monetary gains. This treatment has a harsh effect on her body but not on her soul.  Her soul remains unbroken and steady in its pursuit for the Bridegroom. Consequently, she goes about searching for her lover.

Tell me, you whom I love, where you graze your flock and where you rest your sheep at midday. Why should I be like a veiled woman beside the flocks of your friends?

She asks the Bridegroom “where” he “graze[s]” his “flock” and “where” He “rest[s]” his “sheep” when it is “midday.”  Knowing that none of her earthly relations is willing to provide her with any comfort and consolation, she directs her attention elsewhere; she seeks the Shepherd “whom” she “love[s].” Fear of loneliness and physical exhaustion are the two main deterrents that make her embark on this search. She is lonely. No one wants to speak or associate with her because she is “dark” and seemingly unattractive. Also, the long hours under the “sun” have made her exhausted and fatigued.  The heavy task of pursuing earthly riches, which is forced on her, causes a great deal of exhaustion. It is important to note the time of day is “midday.” The “sun” is scorching.  As a result, she goes on a search for a lover who will give her the consolations and the comforts that her soul is seeking. She asks, “Why should I be like a veiled woman beside the flocks of your friends?” The question denotes a secrecy that surrounds her love for the “fairest of all men.” No one knows that she is in love with the Bridegroom, and she resents the fact that she is “like a veiled woman,” all alone with no one with whom she can share her feelings. Indeed, it is difficult to fall in love with Christ and not be able to share these feelings with the entire world.  The veil is a symbol that signifies all obstructions that prevent us from proclaiming our love for Christ. Rather than being with the “flocks” of her lover’s “friends,” the Bride seeks to join His own personal flock, or His Church.

I’ll stop here for today. May our Beloved, Jesus Christ the “Fairest of all Men,” nourish and satisfy our thirst for love and affection at all times.