For our sermon series on marriage, I’m blogging my way through the Bible’s erogenous zone: The Song of Songs.
Today, it’s 2.1-17.
“I’ll have what she’s having.”
I don’t even need to cite the movie; you know the scene:
Sally Albright: Most women at one time or another have faked it.
Harry Burns: Well, they haven’t faked it with me.
Sally Albright: How do you know?
Harry Burns: Because I know.
Sally Albright: Oh. Right. Thats right. I forgot. Youre a man.
Harry Burns: What was that supposed to mean?
Sally Albright: Nothing. Its just that all men are sure it never happened to them and all women at one time or other have done it so you do the math.
And then, to prove her point, sitting there in the diner Sally takes her good, long time coming into the garden of delights. To use the Song of Songs imagery.
And when she’s done…well, just watch it:
Everyone’s seen the scene and quoted the line, though in my marriage ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ is a distant fourth to ‘white-man overbite,’ ‘wagon wheel coffee table,’ and ‘_______ is quiche of the ’90’s.’
Turns out, When Harry Met Sally’s ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ scene isn’t just ubiquitous it’s theologically instructive.
Where Sally’s sated desire elicits hunger from the two-top at table 8, the young woman of the Song of Song’s desire for her lover is meant to arouse (pun intended) in us a similar desire for God.
The Old Testament usually receives critique and suspicion as being the testament that takes a dim of women generally and women’s sexuality specifically. Despite our assumptions, here in the OT of all places, a woman’s forward, sexual desire is presented in an unabashed and positive light.
In chapter, verse 3 of the Song, the young woman sings:
With great delight I sat in his shadow,
and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
If you think she’s talking about apples and oranges, then you probably thought Led Zeppelin’s ‘Lemon Song’ was also about horticulture.
But no, the ‘Sally’ of the Song of Songs is every bit as bold and unashamed about her desire as the Sally in the film.
By the time we get to verse 16 of the same chapter, the young woman is overcome with hunger, love and desire. The preceding verses climax by breaking breathlessly from poetry and metaphor.
With an almost asphyxiated shout she cries:
My beloved is mine and I am his…
Of course the English translation turns the lights down on how she says it.
‘My beloved- mine. Me- his.’
And that a poem not unlike the scene in When Harry Met Sally made it into the scriptural canon is a very good indication that when the ancients heard this young woman cry out in passion: ‘My beloved- mine. Me- his’ they heard an allegorized version of the Hebrew Bible’s primary profession of love:
‘I will be their God and they shall be my people.’
By including a long, racy poem like the Song in the canon, the ancient rabbis wanted us to look at this woman, think of our relationship to our Beloved, and respond with our own desire: ‘I’ll have what she’s having…’
As Bernard of Clairvaux observes:
“What does she say when she says ‘He for me and I for him?’ We do not know, because we do not feel what she feels. O holy soul, what is this ‘He’ for you, what are you for him?
What, I beg to know, is so familiarly and gracefully given and returned between you? He is for you and you in turn are for him.
Can you speak to our understanding and tell us what you feel?’
The Song of Songs, in other words, is like so many of the songs on the radio. It’s meant to make us long, to wonder what it’s like to be her and to have that other in her life. It’s meant, I’d argue even, to make us jealous of her lover.