It hurts so deeply because we love so deeply. These words are uttered time and again in reference to the pain of separation. The words drip with truth and yet only scratch the surface of the anguish that accompanies separation from a beloved. When one reads letters between soldiers and their loved one, the raw emotion and tenderness leap from the page. In our Hebrew Scriptures that is how the Song of Songs is often understood, a dialogue between two very intimate partners. Even when understood as allegory, the verses resist timidity.
This kind of rapturous intimacy is often missing when we discuss our relationship with God. There is often a distance, a kind of stoic admiration from afar. And yet, our deepest longing is for intimacy with our creator; to know and be known at an intimate level. We speak so highly of our friends the mystics such as Julian of Norwich and Teresa of Avila, and yet we rarely engage the book most given to mystical interludes. Why do we run from it? Who taught us to remain distant from the one who is love and created us in love? What is sacrificed in not knowing God more deeply?
A female as protagonist is found only in Song of Songs. While controversial among some theologians, for those unafraid to engage, it can provide a critical perspective on gender equality and enlighten our understanding of gender roles and masculine normativity. What pathways do engage that female voice open up to us? In the wake of #MeToo and the deconstruction of unequal physical agency, especially among those marginalised in our society, how might this scripture inform and reform our social norms?
In our “McLives,” (Macdonald Golden Arches fame type of lives) we are often racing to get somewhere, racing to be on time for another meeting, racing to deliver our children to their practices before running laps is required for tardiness. In these fast-paced lives we often rush through what should be important interactions and thoughtful conversations. This includes our prayer lives. With the popularity of movies like War Room, the notion of a prayer closet has been reintroduced. The ancestors often spoke of tarrying in the spirit to “have a little talk with Jesus and tell him all about our troubles.” The delight the author takes in seeing her beloved come near is borne of a deep longing to be in one another’s presence. That level of joy is not birthed in quick exchanges. In our over-scheduled lives, is time with God on the calendar?
So often Christianity or religion in general is eschewed as being too demanding, placing a heavy burden upon believers. In some circles there is the thought that life as a Christian is too confining or restrictive. We are all so staid, dour miserable and wowsers it is said. These criticisms are derived from a belief that old friends and familiar places will have to be sacrificed on the altar of piety. Yet the verses in Matthew 11:28-30 are the very antithesis of burden.
One translation reads, “My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.” The writer of Matthew from this week’s scripture informs the reader that humble submission to God actually brings freedom and a way to lighten the load. Unlike the yoke of oxen, which is heavy and conjures images of being forced to work hard in the heat of the day, the yoke of Christ is love and companionship. As the Lord’s Prayer illustrates so beautifully, those who walk with Christ want for nothing. Do our lives witness to Christ as burden-bearer?