Love is Consent

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.

Song of Songs 2:8-13

When Josh and I began dating, it took me a little while to get used to it.  I liked dating him, but then suddenly all of these other people would know that. But the both of us were at college, taking classes together when we started dating, so people were bound to find out. I was particularly concerned about our professors.  Something about our professors knowing we were dating just made me feel itchy.  My subconscious came up with a foolproof plan.  I didn’t realize it for a while until Josh called me out on in, but I would hold Josh’s hand outside but then as soon as we would walk into a building I would drop it, as if the close confines of the building made us too obvious.  Because if I didn’t hold hands with him inside our professors wouldn’t know, right?  Foolproof logic. 

Obviously not and I am happy to report yes, sometimes, I will hold Josh’s hand inside.  Maybe.

I tend to not be into outward affection.  Recently, one of my favorite TV quotes comes from the Good Place, where the eternal being, Michael, who is decidedly not human says this about humans kissing: “Kissing is gross.  You just mash your food holes together.  It’s not for that.”

I get that.

I can even be lukewarm on hugs.  I will hug people, but sometimes I just don’t want to.  

Song of Songs is a lot for me, then.  And maybe it is for some of you, too.  The opening line of Song of Songs  is,

“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—

   for your love is more delightful than wine.”

Seemingly out of nowhere, here in the middle of the bible we get a whole book of love poetry.  Not just any love poetry, but PG-13 love poetry.  Poetry about lovers chasing after one another, using strange metaphors to describe body parts, and generally doing a lot of not talking about God.  

Gross.  

It does seem out of place in scripture.  There’s nothing else like this.  Not just because of the love poetry though, although, it is decidedly strange in its use of metaphors.  But this is also one of those other rare places in scripture where we get to hear a voice from a woman’s perspective.  And not only is this a woman’s voice, but a woman talking about bodies and desiring someone and generally all sorts of things that should make you blush.  

Get it girl.

Because the bible and the church have not exactly been places for women to express their sexuality.  Quite the opposite.  It’s frankly a miracle this is still in the bible.  It’s powerful and exciting to hear.

And thank goodness it’s still in there because it teaches us a powerful lesson about love.

Like I told you, hugs aren’t always my thing.  If I go in for a handshake with you, it doesn’t mean I don’t like you.  Sometimes I just like my space.  But you know the hugs I really like?  The ones I choose to give.  

You know how sometimes children are told, “Go hug grandma, go hug your aunt?”  It starts there for many of us where we’re taught that we don’t have full control over our whole body.  I would recommend asking people of any age if they want to be hugged.  Because it’s a small thing, but it teaches us how to be in the world.  Is love something you have to do, like you must go hug grandma, or something you get to choose to give joyfully and freely?  Do I have to hug you, or do I get to choose to hug you?  

One of these seems a lot more like love than the other.  Love without choice rings hollow. 

Love given freely--that’s the best and perhaps only kind of love.

Song of Songs shows us this kind of love.  One of the best lines in this love poem is, “My beloved is mine and I am his.”  Song of Songs is a conversation.  It’s back and forth between the two lovers, each pursuing one another.  It’s exciting because everyone is participating.  No forced grandma hugs here. 

It’s a little bit more like what your heart feels like when you hold hands walking by your professor for the first time.  

I’m happy to tell you more stories about Josh and me, but to make sure Wesley doesn’t walk out I’ll switch gears a little bit.  This scripture may not talk about God, but I will.  Follow me out here, because although this love talk is about our human relationships, it also teaches us something about how we relate to God.  

We believe and say God is love.  But we don’t often take time to explain what that love is, other than occasionally a pastor explaining to you about all the different Greek words for love.  So what kind of love is God? 

Here’s an idea: God is love that is freely given.  God is love that is pursuing and pursued.  It’s exciting because everyone is participating.  

The love at the heart of our faith is a love of consent.  

We try to model that here at South Haven, whether you know it or not.  We don’t make people come here, attendance isn’t compulsory.  There’s no requirement of how you must interact with God.  Instead it’s an invitation to a relational way of being.

“I am my lover’s and my lover is mine.”

One of the great mysteries of God is that we don’t seem to be forced to do much.  We are not obliged to love.  But we are free to love.

The love poetry of Song of Songs ends with a request.

“Come away, my lover,

and be like a gazelle

or like a young stag

on the spice-laden mountains.”

You are not forced, but called to love.  With your whole self, your whole body, as you choose.

 

Rachel McDonald