Notice: This morning's post does contain mature themes...
Let's Talk About Sex
Who'd have thought? Not only are we talking sex in the Bible today, we are talking about sensuality, attraction, romance and passion. For the most part, sex has not been a particularly engaging topic to date in the texts we have covered. There are an awful lot of "begats" and "bringing forths" to contend with in early books, as well as some less than salient (read: prurient) narratives--David and Bathsheba being one prime example. Yet in this Book, the Song of Songs (for Solomon), we are getting a very different image of sexuality. It is an exploration of desire and passion. It is an extolling of the beauty and attraction of both man and woman at their sultriest. It is a collection of songs that remind us of all that is exciting and joyful in desiring our respective beloveds. It's hot stuff.
So, what is it doing in the Bible?
The original texts are probably drawn from "encouragement songs" that were sung during wedding celebrations, designed to distract the bride and groom from the stress of the obligations placed on them to consummate their union. (You thought the "Chicken Dance" was tough?) It's love poetry, setting a tone for that genre that persists to this day. The great Persian poets pulled from that template. Shakespeare's Sonnets did the same. Even contemporary music continues to explore the ever-present desire between humans to know, to follow and to connect with our beloved.
Desire and connection. That is what we are talking about today, be it in the physical conveyance of sexuality or the social conveyance that Paul is opining on as he concludes his letter to the Colossians. He is reminding them to desire not only God but each other's company in such a way that it fosters and deepens the primary relationships we have through Christ Jesus with each other and with the Divine. In fact, he seeks to heighten the stake the Colossians have in each other and in him in some dramatic ways...and yet, he always seems to be able to keep the primary purpose of the community right out in front. We are because we are in relationship.
The challenge for us, it seems, is how can we reconcile these two ways of understanding (and seeking) intimacy, be it founded in the "other" or in God?
I think the beginning of the answer lies in an honest and willing allowance that God made ALL of what we are. Our faith is not something that exists apart from (and in the Western concern with body-images, above) the corporeal sensations of our fleshly selves. The down side of this connection is that where there is sex, or faith, there are imbalances of power. The Song of Songs presumes a passionate equality between the lovers. Paul adjures the Colossians to hold to a commitment of loving egalitarianism in community. All skirt the issues that lead us to fear, to pull back and to rightfully be concerned that where we are willing to live openly, there is the opportunity to abuse.
The best exposition I ever heard of the Song of Songs comes to mind for me as I write today: the speaker gave us a powerful exposition of the passion and desire expressed in the book...and then continued to talk about how fragile and beautiful the trust is that allows those songs to be sung. It takes strength, care, and a sure sense of loving custody of that trust in order for such lyricized desire to form, be it between two people or between people and God. Our calling is to provide that safe place, wherein people can bloom in truer relationships with each other...and with our God who loves us with full and complete measures of both passion and compassion.