Thursday, 28 April 2011

Their big day

At the moment I'm reading (in translation) some of the most sublime love poetry ever written. It's mostly known as Song of Songs and attributed to King Solomon (10th century BC). Passion is the word!  

"As an apple tree among the trees of the forest,
   so is my beloved among the young men.
With great delight I sat in his shadow,
   and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
He brought me to the banqueting house,
   and his banner over me was love. 
Sustain me with raisins;
   refresh me with apples,
    for I am sick with love.
His left hand is under my head,
   and his right hand embraces me!
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
   by the gazelles or the does of the field,
that you not stir up or awaken love
   until it pleases.

The voice of my beloved!
   Behold, he comes,
leaping  over the mountains,
   bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like  a gazelle
   or a young stag.
Behold, there he stands
   behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
   looking through the lattice.
My beloved speaks and says to me:  
'Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
   and come away,
for behold, the winter is past;
     the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
   the time of singing  has come,
and the voice of  the turtledove
   is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs,
   and  the vines are in blossom;
   they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
   and come away.

O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,
   in the crannies of the cliff,
let me see your face,
   let me  hear your voice,
for your voice is sweet,
   and your face is  lovely.
Catch the foxes for us,
   the little foxes
that spoil the vineyards,
     for our vineyards are in blossom.'
 My beloved is mine, and I am his;
   he grazes among the lilies.
Until the day breathes
   and the shadows flee,
turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle
   or a young stag on cleft mountains." 

And that of course is just a part of the great poem. The comment I read about it today said this:
"Many commentators suggest that the lovers in the Song are betrothed. Betrothal was a more formal, binding arrangement than engagement today. Nevertheless, full physical consummation of a relationship would not happen until after the marriage ceremony" (Penny Boshoff in Closer to God). That's the force of the lover's adjuration to her friends not to stir up love prematurely.  

It's a pity that ours is a society where that's now the exception, as I found in preparing couples for marriage. Usually the reason given was "We've been committed to each other, but haven't been able to afford the wedding until now," or occasionally "It's good to know that you're really compatible before tying the knot - don't you think, vicar?" Well, to be honest, I don't. I don't think "living together" is the best preparation for marriage. I think it's a shame. There are many other ways of testing your mutual compatibility. And I don't think that was the way that God intended. The gift of the whole "you" is the ultimate wedding present to each other.

Now I regret I didn't have the courage to say just that to more people, rather than my usual anodyne acceptance that it was simply too late and "least said...." Certainly I thought being married was better than "living together", and so I would bless their unions happily.

William Windsor and Catherine Middleton are very much children of their time and culture, which habitually awakens sleeping Eros prematurely. And so I wish them joy tomorrow, and hope they'll be role models for long and happy marriage - unlike Solomon.


  1. Do you have any thoughts on the Bishop of London's sermon?

  2. I used to have very rigid views about sex before marriage but now I'm not so sure. I don't think Jesus had much to say about it and in my experience several unhappy marriages would have been saved if the participants had understood more about their sexuality. LOVE is the key word - not sex - and I hope and pray that Wills and Kate will have a long and loving relationship.

  3. I think arguments from silence are rather tenuous (for example he says even less to say about slavery but I suspect he didn't much like it). He'd certainly have loved The Song of Songs and have regarded it as the normative vision of love. BUT, although we know he didn't approve of adultery (Matthew 5), he also didn't condemn the woman arrested for it (John 8). Perhaps the wedding ceremony is the Church saying, "Go and sin no more"! And I say Amen to your prayer.