A few months ago, on a Friday afternoon, I flew into the Memphis airport after a visit with family. Not wanting to drive home after dark and wanting to extend my vacation time, I checked into a hotel and went in search of food. The restaurant choices were numerous, but the lines of people waiting for tables were long. So, I opted for a favorite pastime, something that I did on a regular basis when living in more urban areas. I sat at the bar, ordered a glass of wine, ate a hearty meal, and read.
In all honesty, the last thing I wanted to read was the Bible. After all, I was still on vacation. I wanted to disconnect. I wanted to read something completely “unspiritual”: an interior design magazine, a travel novel, or maybe one of those paperback romances with Fabio on the cover. Well, Fabio is an overstatement, but suffice it to say that I was not in the mood for anything too “serious.”
Yet somehow, my e-reader ended up on The Message, Eugene Peterson’s fabulous, modern translation of Scripture. As I browsed the “Table of Contents,” my eyes fell on the Song of Songs, a fabulous poem attributed to Solomon. I had a flashback to my Old Testament class in seminary, when a young teaching assistant “taught” us the Song of Songs in one 90-minute class. I remember only two things about the lecture to 100+ students: his first sentence and his last sentence, which were the same.
“The Song of Songs is a very sexy book.”
As I sat at the bar, that grad student’s words came back to me. And I regrettably realized that all I could remember about the Song of Songs was how the grad student opened and closed that lecture. I hadn’t read the book in whole since seminary. I turned to the appropriate page and began reading as if it were any other book.
And I was blown away. What was before me was not something that I needed to interpret or exegete or figure out. Yes, I agree that it is sensual. It understandably makes some people nervous with its often-explicit language. But it is also a simply fabulous piece of writing about love. I read it once, then read it again. I found myself reading some of it out loud in a whisper under my breath. The Word was not any less sacred by being read in a bar. It became more sacred as I saw it alive in the people around me.
There was a mix of single people on barstools and couples at tables. Some were holding hands, others were making small talk, and some like me were just trying to stay in their own worlds. Friends were catching up after a day at work. The guy two barstools down from me attempted to flirt by asking why I ordered potato soup over tomato.
In all of these interactions, what I witnessed was a longing for belonging, a reaching out for relationships. That’s what we witness in the Song of Songs, too. We have an everyday desire to connect with one another as the lovers do. The Word of God affirms that these longings, relationships, and desires are part of the humanity that God created us to be. Scripture is wrought with meaning, with metaphor and allegory that point to a mystery beyond ourselves. But sometimes, why don’t we just read Scripture for the spectacular writing that it is?
Dear lover and friend, you’re a secret garden, A private and pure fountain. Body and soul, you are paradise, A whole orchard of succulent fruits— Ripe apricots and peaches, Oranges and pears; Nut trees and cinnamon, And all scented woods; Mint and lavender, And all herbs aromatic; A garden fountain, sparkling and splashing, Fed by spring waters from the Lebanon mountains (Song of Songs 4:12-15, The Message)
In a world where we tend to take ourselves too seriously, would you join me in simply enjoying God’s Word? Would you be willing to read the Song of Songs in a restaurant or Genesis at a family reunion or Revelation along the beach? Let us seek such unusual times and places to read God’s unusual love story to us. Who knows what we will learn as we see the Word not just on the page but also in the people around us?
all good things to each of you, Pastor Darian
Read more from Darian Duckworth at her blog.