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Stories Seldom Heard – April, 2018
Stories Seldom Heard
Happy Easter! Happy Fools’ Day! Happy Spring!
Happy Easter: Alleluia!
In Mark’s Gospel, we, along with the women, leave the scene of the tomb with the words of the angels echoing in our ears:
“But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.'”
Happy Fools’ Day!
Galilee is also our assignment. Galilee is where we live, work and serve others.
Galilee is where we are called to be “faithful fools for Christ.”
Happy Spring: celebrate life!
In San Francisco this year the days are warm, the skies are blue and the buds have cracked their winter seals.
Rainbow colors stretch from the garden floor to the tips of trees.
All good news: alleluia, faithfulness, commitment, new life, renewed energy and the power of love.
Welcome to Stories Seldom Heard. I would especially like to welcome the parishioners of Our Lady of Grace Community in Dayton, Ohio and the diaconate candidates and their wives of the Dallas Diocese.
During this last week, Holy Week, we have experienced many emotions. Yet, all of the highs and lows of these days have been driven by Love. When we think of Holy Week in this way, we become acutely aware of the power of love: the way it guides and sustains us and the choices we make.
About a year ago, I was working with a couple who were preparing for their wedding. They wanted the scripture readings and music for their ceremony to reflect the joy, wonder, seriousness and sincerity of their life commitment. Immediately I Corinthians 13:1-8 came to mind. “Love is always patient and kind, love is never jealous, love is never boastful….” But soon our conversation focused on the “Song of Songs.” Over the next few months the couple read and reflected on some of the passages that mirrored their experience. If they had not been so nervous on their wedding day, it would have been heartening to hear the bride and groom preach on the readings they chose. But as it turned out the preacher used some of the newlyweds’ own insights as part of the preaching.
Readings from “The Song of Songs”
My beloved lifts up his head and says to me, “Come, then, my love,
My lovely one, come. For see, winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth. The season of glad songs has come. The cooing of the turtledove is heard in the land. The fig tree is forming its first figs and the blossoming vines give out their fragrance. Come then my love, my lovely one, come (2:10 -12).
I will seek him whom my heart loves… and now that I have found him whom my heart loves, I held him fast and would not let him go. Such is my beloved, such is my friend (3:2).
Set me like a seal on your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is stronger than death. The flash of love is a flash of fire, the flame of God. Love no flood can quench, no torrents can drown (8:6-7).
You don’t have to be celebrating a wedding anniversary to appreciate the “Song of Songs.” It’s a strong reminder of the beauty of human love, deep friendships and sincere commitment.
In some bibles the “Song of Songs” is called the “Canticle of Canticles” or the “Song of Solomon.” It’s an odd title, but it’s obvious what the authors want to convey. This song is the greatest of all love songs. So why did they not entitle it “The Greatest Song” or “The Greatest Love Song?” Well, even though many of us have struggled through English classes learning the correct way to use comparative and superlative words, such as good, better, best, the Hebrew language does not have the same structure as the English language. In order to convey the idea that something/someone is the most vain, the holiest, the greatest, they repeat the word. In Ecclesiastes we hear, “Vanity of vanities” (Eccl 1:1). Isaiah 6:3 says, “Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh.”
“The Song of Songs” is rich in imagery. In many ways it echoes the love story we hear in the second creation account in the Book of Genesis (2:5-25). Both of these stories are poetic, both celebrate the goodness of God and the beauty of the created world. Both stories celebrate divine and human love and friendship. In Genesis, however, there is an overt reference to God. God is named and is an intimate part of Adam and Eve’s love and friendship. God walks with them in the garden in the cool of the evening. But “The Song of Songs” takes a different approach. It is the only book in the Bible that does not mention God’s name directly. But don’t let this fool you. This is not a secular love song.
The text certainly celebrates human love. It is a profound expression of the reverence and joy between a bride and a groom. But folded within this story of human love is another story. The conversations between the two lovers mirror God’s love for us. Their human love is holy and sacred. It is a flash of fire that reflects the flame of God’s love–a flame that cannot be extinguished by torrents of water or by our fears and doubts. God signs us as God’s own. God sets a seal on our hearts, a seal that cannot be broken by our faithlessness. God’s love is everlasting.
Throughout scripture we hear of God’s intimate knowledge and unending love for us. Psalm 139 reminds us that before a word is on our lips, God knows what we will say. Every detail of our lives is open to God. “It was you who created my inmost being… for all these mysteries I thank you” (Ps. 139). In the psalm and “The Song of Songs” we can clearly hear that God’s love permeates the deepest part of our being and God’s faithfulness will never end.
The early writers of “The Song of Songs,” who combined these love poems from various sources, saw the connection between God’s love for us and human love. It is because of this relationship that “The Song of Songs” is placed within the Wisdom literature of the Bible. Within “The Song of Songs” lies the wisdom of God: a God who does not trivialize the importance of human relationship and the sacredness of intimacy and commitment–a God who teaches us that Love is stronger than death. This death is not just the death that comes at the end of our life, but the daily little and big deaths of disappointment, frustration, failure and the acknowledgement of our own limitations.
These canticles reassure us that we are not alone when we commit ourselves to one another because within the mystery of human love, God is present– present in the courage it takes to say “I’m sorry.” God is present in the humility it takes to accept an apology. God is present as we ask for forgiveness when we have offended another person. God is present in our tenacity to work through doubts and disagreements. God is present in our ongoing holy curiosity to learn more about others. God is present in our willingness to listen and change our ways because we trust the sincerity and insights of the other person’s words. God is present when we take pride in another person’s accomplishments. God is present in our openness to new possibilities.
God was present when we said for the first time “I love you.” God was present the last time we said those same words, especially as we realized how the meaning of those words had become even more deeply rooted within us. No, God has not left us on our own. God has created us in love. God has placed a seal on our hearts–a seal that marks us as God’s beloved. Because of this, many of you have had the courage to enter into a sacred and unique relationship with your spouse. It was a relationship initiated by God and will continue to grow by God’s power– the flame– of God’s love.
Often when I attend weddings or anniversary celebration, couples who have been married for five or fifty-five years say how the prayers and services help them renew their commitment to one another. That is the power of a sacrament! It’s not just for those who are committing themselves to each other for the first time or renewing their vows on their fortieth anniversary, but an opportunity for all of us who are present to renew our commitments to one another and to God.
No, it doesn’t have to be your wedding day or anniversary to celebrate “the person of persons” or “your love of loves,” as they would say in Hebrew. So why not celebrate! Do something special to honor and recognize how important your relationship with your spouse is and/or celebrate a special relationship. You might also like to read the whole book of “The Song of Songs.” It’s not long, only eight chapters, but it is a lovely book and inspired by the God who is Love.
Special thanks to Mary Ellen Green and Maria Hetherton who have helped in editing this article.
“Stories Seldom Heard” is a monthly article written by Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P. Sister is a Dominican Sister of San Rafael, California. This service is offered to the Christian community to enrich one’s personal and spiritual life. The articles can be used for individual or group reflection. If you would like “Stories Seldom Heard” sent to a friend, please send a note to “firstname.lastname@example.org.”