Steadfast – word of the day (and night)
To make some of us who say Morning Prayer on our own accountable, we gather our thoughts using Twitter #cLectio – some are now using Facebook too. It is a company I find helpful. I look forward to our daily posts, some of which are quite challenging. Hashtag cLectio was the brainchild of friend and colleague @theosoc Christopher Burkett. #cLectio stands for the (Revised) Common Lectionary – that’s the “c”, see? The lectionary lists readings for worship for each day of the year. (There’s an app for daily prayer using the lectionary readings.)
Posts are often our first thoughts, sometimes our only thoughts, and other times they’re more thoughtful. Anyone can join in, either daily or occasional. At the moment we are reading through the book of Job. This is an amazing piece of ancient literature which is a sustained reflection on suffering, faith and friendship: questions which remain contemporary through the ages.
In this week’s clection we’ve been gobsmacked by Job’s friend, Eliphaz. Alan Jewell, @VicarAlan, scoffed: “With friends like Eliphaz ….” while Christopher complained “Eliphaz really gets to me, I so dislike what he says”. Eliphaz’s windy words and miserable comfort have made us reflect on what we say and how we respond to suffering and grief – thoughts made more urgent with events at Grenfell Tower and Finsbury Park.
We’re not meant to like Eliphaz and his words warn us off from being a friend like him. My “clection of the day” yesterday arose from some of Eliphaz’s words from the appointed reading, Job 15.
Your sin prompts your mouth;
you adopt the tongue of the crafty.
Your own mouth condemns you, not mine;
your own lips testify against you.
How very dare he? In fact, it’s these windy, wounding words that condemns Eliphaz to the readers’ ridicule. But there is a truth in what Eliphaz says. Our “sin” does prompt our mouths and we do utter our attitudes. We have a proverb that says that eyes are the windows of the soul. But if we speak from the heart what we say is also a reflection of our heart and soul.
So I got to pray:
And I remembered the question raised by Malcolm Guite in a poem from his Singing Bowl:
What if every word we say
Never ends or fades away,
Gathers volume gathers weigh,
Drums and dins us with dismay
Surges on some dreadful day
When we cannot get away
Whelms us till we drown?
What if not a word is lost,
What if every word we cast
Cruel, cunning, cold, accurst,
Every word we cut and paste
Echoes to us from the past
Fares and finds us first and last
Haunts and hunts us down?
What if every murmuration,
Every otiose oration
Every oath and imprecation,
Every blogger’s aberration,
Every facebook fabrication
Every twittered titivation,
Every facile explanation,
Drags us to the ground?
What if each polite evasion
Every word of defamation,
Insults made by implication,
Compromise in convocation,
Propaganda for the nation
False or flattering peruasion,
Blackmail and manipulation
Grows to such reverberation
That it shakes our own foundation,
Shakes and brings us down?
Better that some words be lost,
Better that they should not last,
Tongues of fire and violence.
O Word through whom the world is blessed,
Word in whom all words are graced,
Do not bring us to the test,
Give our clamant voices rest,
And the rest is silence.
I am so grateful for the #cLectio community.
I don’t count myself a “biblical scholar”. When I come to my daily reading from the Old Testament it is often as if I am reading the section for the first time. (Along with others I tend to tweet my naive responses with the #cLectio hashtag, here, here, here, here and here.) My current intrigue is with the Song of Songs, a tiny book of love poetry. And it is as if I am reading it for the first time. I guess it has always been a closed book to me – closed because of its reputation and the manner of its interpretation possibly as a consequence of its reputation. By reputation it is highly erotic and “saucy”. I’d prefer the description “absolutely delightful”. I wonder if a sense of embarrassment has led to its allegorical interpretations shared by synagogue and church which sees the poetry referring to the love of God for his people. Have such interpretations demeaned the text?
Some people will be surprised the Song of Songs is included in our scripture because there is no mention of God and the content is highly erotic. The Song of Songs is the title of the book. It is a superlative title indicating that this Song is very special. Colloquially we could say that this is the “mother and father of all song”. There are two speakers who are lovers. Later readers have named them Solomon (even David) and “the Shulammite” (someone from Jerusalem which translates as “the place of peace”). Allegorical interpreters have called one of the lovers “God” and the other “Israel” or “Church”. Personally I don’t see why we need to rush to their naming and I have preferred to leave them to themselves as two lovers. One of them, the maiden, has her confidantes. They are “daughters of Jerusalem”. They stand by. They have a view but no say. They stay as readers and celebrants. I have chosen to join them.
To me the couple are young lovers and with the Daughters of Jerusalem we are privileged to watch love building through them. My reading may have been influenced by Trevor Dennis (here is reason why we should reading him) who finds reason to call Adam and Eve children in his reading of Genesis. There are so many references to a garden in the Song of Songs that I couldn’t help going back to the Garden of Eden, to the boy and the girl we find in paradise. We have to be sorry the way they turned out (and the way they were turned out). I can’t help wondering whether The Song of Songs is dreaming a happy ending, building in love rather than falling in love.
In Imagining God Dennis imagines this “childs’ play”:
One hot afternoon Adam and Eve, unselfconsciously naked, sat on the bank of one of the rivers of Eden, dangling their feet in the water. Eve picked up a flat, round stone, stood up and flicked it in twelve graceful bounces right across to the other side.
‘Who taught you to do that?’ asked Adam.
Adam turned towards God. ‘Did you really?’
‘Could you teach me?’
‘Of course. Watch.’
God stood up, chose a stone carefully, kissed it, curled his finger round it, and, with a movement of his wrist too quick to catch, sent it spinning downstream. It went almost as far as Adam and Eve could see, then swung round in a tight circle and came speeding towards them again, till with one last bounce it skipped back into God’s hand. It had hit the water two hundred times, and had left two hundred circles spreading and entwining themselves upon the surface. From the middle of each circle a fish leaped, somersaulted, and splashed back into the river.
‘Now you try!’ said God. Adam pushed him into the water. God came to the surface a few yards out from the bank. ‘That was level ten, by the way,’ he called. ‘Eve’s only at level two at the moment, aren’t you Eve?’ ‘You were showing off, God,’ said Eve. ‘You’ll be walking on the water next!’ ‘That’s level twenty,’ laughed God, and promptly disappeared beneath the surface.
So it was once in Eden. So it can be still. So it is, on rare and precious occasions. But Adam and Eve complicated matters. They grew up to think flicking stones child’s play. They turned in upon themselves, and God remained out of sight, beneath the surface. They did not sit with him on the bank any more. Now and then, realizing their loneliness and overcome with sudden longing, they would gaze out across the water and see the ripples he left behind. But these were soon gone, and the water would resume its customary smoothness, as if nothing had happened, as if he had never been there.
There are so many beautiful images in this Love Song of Love Songs. It is spring time, a time for building love’s nest. The references to spring signify love that is young, lovers for whom relationship is a novel and delicious mystery.
My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
for now 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 turtle-dove is heard in the land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.”
Song of Songs 2:10-13
The song is soaked in pleasant images, images that are so sensual. They are images of body and bed, field and garden. The whole of creation seems to behind their love and a rich harvest is the outcome of their love. With the Daughters of Jerusalem and with the young lovers, we are allowed into a special world. For me, this is a creation story: the mother and father of so many love songs.
(And, of course, it reminded me of another garden, the strange meeting of two people there and the love that never goes cold between them.)
Mary stood weeping outside the tomb … As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). John 20:11-16
Love has created a world of its own – always has done, always will.
The text of the Song of Songs is laid out here.