For our sermon series on marriage and relationships I decided to blog my way through the Bible’s own Skinemax Channel: The Song of Songs.
In 1.9-17 of the Song of Songs, the young woman and her lover voice to one another their reciprocal admiration for one another. They name their attraction. They call out what they find beautiful in the other. About the other.
9 I compare you, my love,
to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots.
10 Your cheeks are comely with ornaments,
your neck with strings of jewels.
11 We will make you ornaments of gold,
studded with silver.
12 While the king was on his couch,
my nard gave forth its fragrance.
13 My beloved is to me a bag of myrrh
that lies between my breasts.
14 My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms
in the vineyards of En-gedi.
15 Ah, you are beautiful, my love;
ah, you are beautiful;
your eyes are doves.
16 Ah, you are beautiful, my beloved,
Our couch is green;
17 the beams of our house are cedar,
our rafters are pine.
I once had an old professor at Princeton who shared with us how he and his (criminally young) newly wed wife spent every evening of their honeymoon reciting a section of the Song of Songs to one another.
From either side of their bed.
I’m sure he thought something like: ‘I’m showing them how powerfully scripture and liturgy can form every part of our lives.’
We all thought: ‘Gross.’
The vomit in my throat aside, my professor was (inartfully) conveying an ancient and sweeping biblical principle:
There is no deeper knowing of another than knowing the other in their nakedness.
Two people stripped of every guise or pretense, making themselves vulnerable to another, baring every imperfection and risking to see if they are a delight to the source of their delight…
They know each other in a way that no one else can know them.
As Rowan Williams writes:
“The whole story of creation, incarnation and our incorporation into the fellowship of Christ’s body tells us that God desires us, as if we were God, as if we were that unconditional response to God’s giving that God’s self makes in the life of the trinity. We are created so that we may be caught up in this; so that we may grow into the wholehearted love of God by learning that God loves us as God loves God…”
This is why nakedness in general and the Song of Songs in particular long have served as a metaphor for how we know and are known by God.
It’s this metaphor from which comes the practice of veiling the bride.
The gradual, ongoing unveiling of bride to groom and groom to bride that happens over the course of a marriage is like a laboratory of learning how God sees us.
“The body’s grace itself only makes human sense if we have a language of grace in the first place; and that depends on having a language of creation and redemption. To be formed in our humanity by the loving delight of another is an experience whose contours we can identify most clearly and hopefully if we have also learned or are learning about being the object of the causeless loving delight of God, being the object of God’s love for God through incorporation into the community of God’s Spirit and the taking-on of the identify of God’s child.”
The prevailing Gospel of Inclusiveness leads too many couples to presume that love and marriage means their partner should accept them as they are and never ask them to change.
Cultural presumptions aside, the fact remains that true married love changes you whether you think it should or not.
Married love changes you because, other than your relationship with God, marriage is the only place in which you are perceived as you truly are, shorn of all pretense.
In marriage alone, you are shaped and changed by the perceptions of other. Seeing you for who you really are, your spouse alone can help shape you into who God would you have be.
It’s in being seen for you really are
It’s in being seen naked, in both a literal and metaphoric sense
And yet still being loved, still being a cause of delight for your delight
That you get closest to how God loves you
And thus grow into God’s likeness for you.
Some Christians refer to marriage as a sacrament. Others prefer to name it a covenant. Everyone concurs that marriage is a ‘means of grace.’
Like the bread and wine of the Eucharist.
Just as the habit of constant communion over a lifetime shapes you in unseen, untold, unnumbered ways, being revealed to another over a lifetime reveals, by grace, a different you.