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For our winter sermon series on marriage and relationships, I’ve decided to blog my way through the Bible’s erogenous zone: The Song of Songs.

Like discovering unopened Christmas presents hidden in the toe of the stocking, I remember the first time I realized Prince’s song ‘Little Red Corvette’ wasn’t about matchbox cars after all:

“I guess I must be dumb / Cause you had a pocket full of horses / Trojan and some of them used / But it was Saturday night / I guess that makes it all right”

I came (no pun intended) to this realization while translating a just-as-dirty Ovid poem in 10th grade Latin class. The artist formerly and known once again as Prince was simply perpetuating the ancient rhetorical form known as innuendo.

All in the voice of the young woman, here are verses 5-7 of Song of Songs chapter 1:

5 I am black and beautiful,
   O daughters of Jerusalem,
like the tents of Kedar,
   like the curtains of Solomon.
6 Do not gaze at me because I am dark,
   because the sun has gazed on me.
My mother’s sons were angry with me;
   they made me keeper of the vineyards,
   but my own vineyard I have not kept!
7 Tell me, you whom my soul loves,
   where you pasture your flock,
   where you make it lie down at noon;
for why should I be like one who is veiled
   beside the flocks of your companions? 

prince-little-red-corvette-warner-brothersEven biblical literalists will have to concede that “the vineyard” to which the young woman refers here (at the beginning of this erotic poem) isn’t the sort where grapes are plucked.

She’s not protected her vineyard.

She’s not been chaste.

And for that offense her brothers have punished her.

The punishment is the source of her dark, tanned skin, upon which the female chorus of the poem stare in derision. Much as only recently, skin color was a reason for categorization. This young woman’s chorus of women, we can surmise, are wealthy and look down upon the supposed caste of a darker skinned woman.

But, she sings:

Do not gaze at me because I am dark,
   because the sun has gazed on me.

Her skin color indicates not her status but her sin.

The punishment for not preserving her ‘vineyard’ has been labor in the sun. Another inneundo-laden song comes to mind (Blister in the Sun).

But here’s the remarkable thing:

she thinks what others would consider a blemish has actually made her beautiful.

How so?

Her lover’s love for her has convinced her that it makes her beautiful.

These young lovers, then, have happened upon a realization that usually only long-married lovers learn:

True love can see in their beloved not just the obvious beauty but also what in other eyes’ seem a blemish.

True love sees not the other’s imperfection as imperfection but rather they are there, as Robert Jenson says, “to be transformed by the grace of affection into occasions of endearment.”