let us go out into the fields
and lie all night among the flowering henna.
Let's go early to the vineyards
to see if the vine has budded,
if the blossoms have opened
and the pomegranate is in flower
There I will give you my love.
The air is filled with the scent of mandrakes
and at our doors
rare fruit of every kind, my love,
I have stored away for you.
of Solomon 7: 12 - 14
and Chana Bloch ( 1 )
Two lovers meet in the countryside,
under the cover of darkness, and part at dawn. He calls her his sister and his bride, but there is only one wedding
in the Song of Songs — the wedding of King Solomon ( verse 3: 11 ):
Come out, 0 daughters of Zion,
and gaze at Solomon the King!
See the crown his mother set on his head
on the day of his wedding,
the day of his heart's great joy.
But the Song's
young Romeo is not Solomon. Solomon is the master of a harem that has to be guarded day and night, like the vineyard
in verses 8: 11-12.
King Solomon had a vineyard
on the Hill of Plenty.
He gave that vineyard to watchmen
and each would earn for its fruit
one thousand pieces of silver.
My vineyard is all my own.
Keep your thousand, Solomon! And pay
two hundred to those
who must guard the fruit.
the Song's Romeo has only one love, and there is no need for gaurds: Her heart belongs to him alone. She is his
vineyard: his source of love and winelike erotic pleasure. Verses 6: 8-9 provide further evidence of the exclusive
devotion that distinguishes our protagonist from King Solomon :
Threescore are the queens,
fourscore the king's women,
and maidens, maidens without number.
One alone is my dove,
my perfect, my only one,
love of her mother, light
of her mother's eyes.
to end then, the Song's young lovers remain unmarried. That is why, in the ( frequently mistranslated ) final verse,
we find her urging her love to hurry away, to avoid discovery and capture.
Hurry, my love! Run away,
my gazelle, my wild stag
on the hills of cinnamon. ( Song 8:14 )
What, we might
ask, is this story—celebrating two passionate adolescents who meet and make love sub rosa—doing in the midst of
holy scriptures? And in what way—if any—does this illicit relationship reflect our relationship with God (according
to traditional interpretations of the Song ) ?
There is an inherent spirituality
in the "Song of Songs" that has been overlooked by traditional interpretations. Through lovemaking and
procreation we participate in the creative activity of the Source of Life. In a flash of insight, two lovers may
even realize that they are One with that Source. Beneath the illusion of separation, there is only one universal
...in an embrace
of this kind, all considerations of time and place, of what and who, drop away ... and the pair discover themselves
as the primordial 'love that makes the world go round.' There is an extraordinary melting sensation ... and, 'seeing
their eyes reflected in each other's, they realize that there is one Self looking out through both... The conceptual
boundary between male and female, self and other, dissolves, and—as every spoke leads to the hub—this particular
embrace on the this particular day discloses itself as going on forever, behind the scenes."
Watts, "Erotic Spirituality" ( 7 )
personal account of this transcendent experience is given by Trisha Feuerstein, in the book "Sacred Sexuality."
Trisha begins her account with a memory that is reminiscent of Song of Songs 5:2 and 1: 13-14:
I was asleep but my heart stayed awake
Song 5:2 )
All night between my breasts
my love is a cluster of myrrh,
a sheaf of henna blossoms
in the vineyards of Ein Gedi.
Song 1: 13-14 )
The great Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart, had a very interesting interpretation for these passages, which
is the perfect introduction to Trisha's story:
First, "Be asleep to all things": that means ignore time, creatures, images. And then you could perceive
what God works in you. That is why the soul says in the Song of Songs, "I sleep but my Heart watches."
Therefore, if all creatures are asleep in you, you can perceive what God works in you. 
memory of that incident is of awakening one morning after a night of lovemaking and feeling as if I had not been
asleep. I felt as though I was conscious or constantly awake on some higher plane. That entire day I remember feeling
totally and perfectly relaxed.
In this perfect
relaxation I stood outside of time. It was as if time normally flowed in a horizontal plane, and I had somehow
stepped out of this horizontal flow into a timeless state. There was absolutely no sense of the passage of time.
To say there was no beginning or ending of time would seem irrelevant. There was simply no time.
coming home from work a few days later, standing in the living room of my little studio apartment, and suddenly
realizing that I had no edges. There was no me. The thought arose, and these are the exact words, "This is
what I AM in truth." I remember looking over to the door of my apartment and thinking, "There is no difference
between door jambs and smog." There is no difference between anything whatsoever. Everything is the same.
There is only apparent difference.
that the thoughts also arose, "You could shoot me in this moment and I would laugh." Everything material
seemed superfluous. It was all spontaneously and playfully arising from one great source, and it could just as
well cease to arise in any moment.
had become infinity with eyes. I felt as if I had just been born in that moment, or that I had been asleep all
my life and had just awakened. I also remember thinking that this was the true condition of everyone and that everyone
could know this.
moment remains, seventeen years later, the single most significant moment of my life. It was also the most ordinary,
simple, happy, normal, neurosis-free moment of my life. I was simply being what I AM, and what everyone else IS,
in this state of edgelessness for about three weeks, and life was intensely magnified. When I walked, I felt so
light it was as if my feet did not touch the ground. I had no appetite for food—in fact, most of what I tried to
eat left a strange metallic taste in my mouth. And although I ate almost nothing during this period, I lost no
weight. I remember telling my lover that it felt as if my spine were plugged into the "universal socket"
and that it was a source of infinite energy.
time I was more creative than I had ever been—or have been since—both at work and outside of work. All the limits
on my thinking were no longer in place. I also became prescient—seeing into the future and then later experiencing
the scenes I had foreseen down to the last detail. This astonished me.
I also remember
sitting at my desk at work one day and turning to look at one of my officemates. In an instant I was drowning in
bliss, overwhelmed with love and compassion for my fellow worker, and for every being and thing I looked at. I
loved everyone, including my lover, the same—infinitely. There was really no one separate to love. Tears silently
rolled down my cheeks. I felt infinite love and infinite pain at the same time, the pain arising from realizing
the power and primacy of love, yet how little we love.
thinking that this universal love is what the Madonna symbolizes. Then suddenly I felt as if I were the source
of all creation, that the universe was arising from me, or through me—from whatever this infinite thing was I had
Feuerstein "Sacred Sexuality" (9)
There are many paths to the experience of "unitive
consciousness." This deeply felt oneness with the Source of Life is the essential common ground of all great
religions. Similar realizations of the true Self have been described by the renowned mystics of every spiritual
tradition, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. In the words of the Christian mystic,
with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me: my eye and God's eye are one eye, one seeing, one
knowing and one love."
From German Sermon No. 12. )
this insight has not been given a central place in mainstream Christianity. According to Timothy Freke, in his
book on "The Wisdom of the Christian Mystics:"
is the spiritual essence of Christianity. The great Christian mystics, however, have often found themselves horribly
persecuted as heretics by the established Churches for their outrageous claims and idiosyncratic ways. The mystics
are not content to have a relationship with God via priests and institutions, but look inside themselves to know
God directly. When they do, God is revealed as an all-embracing love that unites the universe into one indivisible
whole. In communion with God, the mystics no longer experience themselves as separate individuals but as expressions
of the Oneness. God is the only reality. God is everything. God does everything. This mystical vision is not a
psychological anomaly: it is the natural state. Human beings fail to experience it only because they believe themselves
to be separate from God, when in fact He is their very essence. All mystical practices are designed to dispel this
pernicious illusion of separateness."
Like the spiritual
practices of the mystics, love and lovemaking have the potential to dispel the "pernicious illusion of separateness."
As John Welwood pointed out in "Love and Awakening:"
in love provides a glimpse of the real gold that lies at the heart of our humanness. In love's early stages, powerful
qualities of our being—openness, peace, expansiveness, delight—simply emerge, unbidden, out of the heightened sense
of presence we experience with our partner." —( 3 )
In the words
of David Frawley:
universe is a manifestation of our own deeper being. In our being we are naturally one with all. Through relationship
we are trying to rediscover that unity... to discover ourselves beyond the boundaries of the physical body."
—( 5 )
And yet the
power of love and lovemaking to dispel the illusion of separateness has not been acknowledged and cultivated in
the mainstream of Christian culture—even though the foundation for such an embodied spirituality is plainly there
in the Song of Solomon. As Robert Alter points out:
of Songs is the great love poem of commingling — of different realms, different senses, and the male and female
The art of
lovemaking — as a way of communing with God — has been discouraged and suppressed even more vigorously than other
forms of mysticism. The Song of Songs tells the story of a road not taken.
Trouble in Paradise
The Song is
a joyful celebration of love and eros. Yet it is a composition of both light and shadow. In its shadows there is
an understated conflict between the girl and her brothers. We can see this drama more clearly if we focus on their
interactions. The first hint of conflict can be found in verse 1: 6:
My brothers were angry with me
they made me guard the vineyards.
I have not guarded my own.
Song 1: 6 )
young Juliet has been charged with the responsibility of guarding her brother's vineyards against foxes and other
intruders. In verse 1: 6, she draws an analogy between her brother's vineyards and her own body. Her arms and legs
are vines, and nestled in this vineyard are the soft petals of flowering blossoms and ripening fruit. Her breasts
are "bunches of grapes." According to the Law, she is expected to guard this metaphorical vineyard with
the utmost care. But instead of doing so, she meets with her lover in secret to savor the intoxicating wine of
Kiss me, make me drunk with your kisses!
Your sweet loving
is better than wine.
Song 1: 2 )
are burning with curiosity to know who her lover is, but she protects him, using the language of metaphor to conceal
his identity. Speaking of her lover as a "branching apricot tree" she confides: "In that shade I
have often lingered, tasting the fruit," thus revealing the frequency and unbridled passion of their erotic
Her job in
the vineyard is to watch for foxes and other intruders. At one point, she takes her lover by surprise, emerging
from the shadows of a cliff and catching him as if he were a fox. This game of hide-and-seek is playful and light-hearted,
but the danger from her brothers is real. If her lover's presence were known to them, they might chase him down,
like a fox.
The depth of
her anxiety is revealed in a troubled dream where she is beaten and bruised by the guardians of the city—the "watchmen
of the walls." Her mixed feelings come to the surface in this passage, with its thinly disguised reference
to her brothers. She is threatened by the very ones whose duty it is to guard her.
In the entire
poem, her brothers speak only once — immediately following her impassioned monologue about the durability of love
and the folly of those who think they can buy it — a rather unflattering introduction to her guardians:
If a man tried to buy love
with all the wealth of his house,
he would be despised.
We have a little sister
and she has no breasts.
What shall we do for our sister
when suitors besiege her?
If she is a wall, we will build
a silver turret upon her.
If she is a door, we will bolt her
with beams of cedarwood.
I am a wall
and my breasts are towers.
But for my lover I am
a city of peace.
The same theme
is taken up immediately afterword by her lover, significantly locating her imaginary argument with her brothers
between two admonishments of foolish people who value wealth more than love.
between her brothers and the menacing watchmen who guard the city walls in her dream is made explicit in this interchange.
Because of her need for secrecy, this confrontation should be seen as a flight of the imagination—a poetic device
designed to say, in poetic form, what it would be too dangerous to say in reality. Her brothers wonder what they
are going to do when she is completely beseiged by suitors: "We have a little sister and she has no breasts,"
they say; and they make it clear that they will "bolt her with beams of cedarwood" if she should open
her door to the anticipated throng of hopeful admirers. Taking up her brother's metaphor—in which she is seen as
a city under seige—she tells them: "I am a wall and my breasts are towers. But for my lover I am a city of
peace." Here—as a creature of the storyteller's art, and an ambassador of Love—the Song's Juliet gives a voice
to normally unspoken thoughts: confronting authority, and defending a woman's right to choose her own mate.
Then, in the
final passage, her lover tells a little parable about Solomon, who has to pay watchmen to guard his vineyards.
The vineyard, as we have seen, is one of the Song's central metaphors—signifying the young woman's body. In this
context, however, the vineyards represent Solomon's harem, which has to be guarded day and night because his many
wives and concubines have been accumulated for reasons that have little to do with love, and much to do with the
acquistion of wealth and power, through the formation of political alliances. By contrast, our protagonist's lover
is wholly devoted to him, and he to her.
behalf of these lovers—who are about the same age as Romeo and Juliet—the author of the Song seems to be pleading
their case in a "court of love," arguing poetically that we should look with favor on their courtship
and betrothal, and celebrate their profound love for each other. In verse 5: 9, for example, their love is called
to account, and passionately defended...
How is your lover different
from any other, O beautiful woman?
Who is your lover
that we must swear to you?
My beloved is milk and wine,
above ten thousand...
of their maturity and readiness for betrothal is presented throughout the poem as we witness their passion for
each other and their wisdom regarding the nature and value of true love...
Great seas cannot extinguish love,
no river can sweep it away.
If a man tried to buy love
with all the wealth of his house,
he would be despised.
But all this
evidence seems to fall on deaf ears. In a time when females were defined by law as the property of one man or another,
the girl's father would be the one to decide this issue, but her father is conspicuously absent. Instead she is
engaged in an archetypal struggle with her brothers, claiming that her breasts are like "towers," against
their claim that she has no breasts at all. In her brother's opinion, she is barely ready for courtship, let alone
betrothal and marriage. They give no sign of approval, and in the final scene she urges her lover to hurry away
to avoid discovery and capture.
Hurry, my love! Run away,
my gazelle, my wild stag
on the hills of cinnamon. ( Song 8:14 )
In the commentary
on their new translation, Ariel and Chana Bloch point
out that this final verse is frequently mistranslated:
Coming at the
end of the Song, this request by the Shulamite—"Run away"—has caused difficulties for many translators,
who prefer to read "flee with me," or "flee to me," or "come into the open," or the
like. All these readings are unacceptable, since barah can only mean "to flee away from" someone, or
something; nor is there any textual support for the suggestion that she asks him to run away with her. Rather,
this final exchange between the two lovers, 8:13 - 14, evokes a familiar setting: the young man asking the Shulamite
to let him hear her voice, as in 2:14, and she urging him to run away before sunrise so that he will not be caught,
as in 2:17 ( where sob "to turn" is likewise meant in the sense of "to turn away from speaker").
The Song thus ends with the motif of the lovers parting at dawn, as in the aubade of later traditions—an ending
that looks forward in anticipation to another meeting."
The final verse
is the last resounding piece of evidence that the Song's Romeo and Juliet remain unmarried, right to the end of
the poem. And because of the pattern of meeting and parting that is established throughout the story, we are left
with the impression that they will continue to meet and make love in secret, in defiance of her brother's authority.
What, we might
ask, is this story—celebrating two passionate adolescents who meet and make love illicitly—doing in the midst of
holy scriptures ? In what sense, if any, can an illicit love affair be understood as a metaphor for our relationship
with God? One would expect such a chronicle of misbehavior to be attended by strong words of disapproval and stern
warnings. In ancient Israel, circa 300 BCE, a woman who lost her virginity before marriage was treated as damaged
merchandise — significantly reduced in value—and there were serious consequences.
Continued on next page...
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