Is Nature the true beloved in the Song of Songs?

Screenshot 2018-09-05 15.44.01.png

Song of Solomon 2:8-13

The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes,

leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.

My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.

Look, there he stands
behind our wall,

gazing in at the windows,
looking through the lattice.

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 turtledove
is heard in our land.

The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom; 
they give forth fragrance.

Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away."

This morning’s Old Testament reading is from a book called the Song of Solomon or the Song of Songs. This book is unique in the Bible in that it simply celebrates love- romantic and sensual. There are two voices, each expressing their desire for the other. And the one we heard this morning is female. In fact, it is one of the few female voices that we hear in the Scriptures, either old or new testament.

Biblical literature was frequently ascribed to monumental figures from the history of Judaism. It is unlikely that Solomon was the author. As you may remember, Solomon was reputed to be gifted with superior wisdom. And it for this reason that books containing wisdom, such as Proverbs, as well as those that are ascribed to him, as the Song of Songs, are grouped together in what is known as the wisdom literature. But the Song of Songs I really more of a poem, than a book of insight into wise living. Or is it?

Next week, thousands of people will converge on San Francisco for Gov. Gerry Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit. There is an interfaith service as well as a schedule of workshops to be held at Grace Cathedral, and you can go online, or contact Cynthia Cravens to learn more about that. So the church is getting involved in a big way in highlighting the consequences of climate change.

Meanwhile, there are some in the church who believe that we have no place in the civil discourse of this hot-botton topic. They argue that the church should be a place where people with divergent views on climate change can come together, and that taking a side might discourage those who are skeptical of the science on this issue and stress economic development above our responsibility to the environment. How do you feel about this issue?

We know where Pope Francis stands. Three years ago, he wrote an encyclical entitled “Laudato Si,” in which he warns the world that we are ruining the planet for future generations. The patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox church joined the pope in calling for a concerted effort in the world to take responsibility now to take climate change seriously and do what we can to reduce green house gases.

Any discussion of the church’s response to climate change should include the reality that Christian theology has been slow to take responsibility and has in fact validated mistreatment of Creation. The Genesis accounts of Creation put humankind at the top of the pyramid. Male and female, we alone among all of creation were created in the image of God. God invites Adam to name the animals, an activity that entails power over the other creatures of the world. This hierarchical understanding of man as gifted by God with power over creation, unfortunately, led to widespread abuse over our environment.

In recent years, Christian theology has sought to reframe the position of humankind in the world as that of stewards of creation, not the owners of it. Ownership belongs to God alone. Our role, is that of caretaker, and unfortunately, for the most part, we have failed miserable in our duty to care for the natural world.

Perhaps what is missing is the ability, by most of us, with a few notable exceptions to see the natural world the way that God sees it, through eyes of love. I think about environmental visionaries like John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, Rachel Carson, the founders of Greenpeace and Bill McKibbon as the exceptions. In the words from the Song of Songs this morning, we hear not only a celebration of love between romantic partners, but also a celebration of the love of Creation, our natural world:


Look, he comes,

leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.

My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.

 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 puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom; 
they give forth fragrance.

 

What beauty and sensuous delights are to be found in the world of nature, the world that God has created.

There are many people living today whose spirituality and relationship with God is nurtured by nature. I think of the poets like Wendall Berry and Mary Oliver who wrote:

 

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.” 

 

We who live in cities and suburbs may have lost all sense of our place in the family of things. It is clear that the degradation of the environment began with the industrial revolution, in which human technology and engineering began to subjugate the earth itself to produce economic goods. Certainly the material standard of living rose for masses of people. But at some point, the returns on polluting the air, the oceans, our fresh water and raising the temperature of the earth itself, can no longer be justified. And of course, it is the people who live on the margins, who lack air conditioning, who lack refrigeration, who are prone to food insecurity and famine, and natural disasters who will feel the brunt of the ways in which we have disrespected the earth. But closer to home, for two years in a row, the air quality in San Francisco has several times reached dangerous levels of pollution from the fires ravaging the state. It truly is time now to make action against further environmental distruction a priority.

 

How can we do this? We can look at our own carbon foot print and seek to reduce it. We can vote for politicians who understand that the future of life on the planet is at stake and short term interests much be superseded by long term planning to stem environmental degradation. We can all become educated about the issues and able to talk with others from an informed perspective. Perhaps you have friends, acquaintances and relatives who do not understand the urgency of this issue. We have seen the ash and breathed the smoke filled air, too often to deny that the natural world around us is changing.

 

Finally, perhaps the deepest way that we can be part of the campaign to save the planet is to allow ourselves to fall in love with the world that God has created. Spend time in nature. Listen to bird song. Feel the cool ocean breeze and the sand of a California beach between your toes. Notice the unseen ways that our environment supports our lives, when the air is clear and the water is clean to drink.  Let us celebrate God’s gifts to us in Creation and vow to be better stewards of the awesome planet on which we live.

 

Amen.