Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection July 31, 2016
A Flame of Yahweh
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
This past Sunday, I mentioned that the most important insight, the most vital piece of wisdom, from the Song of Songs is found in chapter 8, verse 6: “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy as fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of Yahweh (the Lord).” (ESV)
As we probably know, when Moses asked God for God’s name at the burning bush (see Exodus 3:13-14), God gave the sacred name which has typically been translated as Yahweh. This is the name used most often for the name of God in the Old Testament. So when we hear in the Song of Songs that love is “the very flame of Yahweh” - we should pay attention!
If God is like anything, God is like fire. As Ronald Rolheiser writes: God is “an infinite fire that is relentlessly seeking to embrace and infuse all creation. And that fire is inside of us.”
Do we not recall the fire unleashed upon the disciples at Pentecost? Fire - divine fire - but fire nonetheless! And what does this fire do to us? It makes us burn with fever, the fever of eternal love.
This past week my beloved Beth resumed playing her flute. I’m delighted to again have her lovely flute music echoing in our home. Last Saturday morning, she played blues songs for about an hour. Among the songs she played was the classic song, “Fever.”
Most of us know this song, do we not? “You give me fever when you kiss me; fever when you hold me tight … what a lovely way to burn!”
“What a lovely way to burn!” In a sense, this sums up for us the Song of Songs. In the Hebrew, the Song begins: “Kiss me!” Talk about jumping right to the point! Kiss me! Yissageni!
Many Biblical commentators over the centuries have worked hard to see in the Song of Songs an allegory of God’s love for Israel and/or God’s love for the church. Maybe so - maybe not! Hard to say! As one Old Testament professor quipped: “If the Song of Songs is an allegory about the love between God and Israel or the church, (then) it’s a little kinky!”
There is certainly much eroticism in the Song. But who among us has not been touched, scorched, by the flame, the power, the passion of erotic energy? And yet where has the church been when we passed through the flames of adolescence and young adulthood? Does the church offer our adolescents and young adults the kind of guidance they need to deal with sexuality?
We need to know that the powerful yearnings, the powerful passions, the powerful longings that so energized and also disturbed our adolescence come to us from God. Love is a raging flame of God!
We are, each and every one of us, created with two great hungers: a hunger for God and a hunger for each other. And these two hungers are interconnected, intertwined. One cannot exist apart from the other.
When we love one another, we are loving God. When we love God, we become more capable of loving others. Yet I believe we cannot really love God without, in some deep way, loving at least one other human person.
Let me state this truth clearly and simply: To fail at love is to fail at life! Nothing else matters as much. Love always opens us up to others. The more closed off we are to others, the less possibility of love. And love is our whole reason for being!
Why do we not teach our children, our grandchildren, and all our young, that the only way to be successful in life is to love and be loved. This is what is means to be successful - not what our bank accounts contain! Each person’s love story is his or her most important story!
I apologize to all our young people who have not been well taught by our church about the importance of love and how human sexuality is a precious gift from God. But it’s not always easy teaching and preaching about love and sex.
The Christian Church has not done very well in helping most of us deal with the vagaries of human love and human lust. This is true for the past as well as the present. And while we may laugh at the ignorance of the past and the foolishness many of us, including myself, were taught - the variations of human sexuality available today to anyone with a computer misses a vital point. We have largely lost an awareness of the sacredness of sexuality.
We need to teach our young and even our not so young that intimacy is what we are created for. But intimacy is easily frustrated by the reality of sin and human brokenness.
What we try to do on Sundays at our beloved church is to nurture intimacy through our worship, through our prayers, through our songs, through our sermons, and through our fellowship. We create a sacred space, a protected place, where we can use the language of human intimacy to come closer to God and closer to one another.
It may not always seem so - but the truth unveiled for us in the Song of Songs - is that our sexual lives and our faith lives are parallel. Sexuality and faith both deal with the elements of intimacy and the erotic energy of ecstasy.
Intimacy is an absolute requirement of wholeness. We cannot, we cannot, be either whole or holy in isolation. Yet intimacy is not easy to achieve. And the beloved, like God, will always remain a mystery. But what a mystery to lose ourselves in!