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Chesterton once wrote that the great lesson of “Beauty and the Beast” was “that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.” Beautiful idea, right? But it’s hard to believe in a world where that sort of thing happens so rarely.
Sure, Christian pastors talk about the value of every single human being, advocating for the overlooked. Christian songwriters write love songs for the plain-faced. Bloggers travel to the depths of the third world (or the inner city) to take selfies with their arms thrown around the deformed and the rejected. But when we look for follow through, it’s rare to find real people living this stuff out.
In Christian industry, faith-based recording houses pump out radio hits about being made in the image of God while behind the scenes, they sign men and women who possess some sort of beauty gimmick or cultural edge. Christian publishing companies fight over former athletes, former beauty queens, writers who have “the look.”
Christian conferences feature pretty faces, and CCM videos are riddled with pretty bodies surrounded by candles, wet from rain, panning to sexy stares into the camera.
Christian men overlook patient, praying single women to pursue women who use their bodies as cultural leverage. And inside the microcosm of our local Christian communities, preferential treatment for the powerful and rejection of the frumpy is so common that many have quit trying to engage.
We’ve seen how we are invisible to our heroes because they are busy climbing ladders or networking, and we’ve resigned to politics inside churches and religious organizations.
So if you tell me that God’s love makes me desirable and new, I will remember being nineteen or twenty and wanting to believe that kind of story line, but I’ve seen too much now to let the hope go too deep. If beautiful, gifted, and powerful humans use and dispose of the unattractive, why wouldn’t a God who is even greater and more lovely do the same with me? He’s so much, while I am so little.
Grace is supposed to be a free gift, which means trying to earn love is really pride. But after living for decades of seeing how love works among humans, how do I approach God without flinching? How do I hope one more time that the fairy tale is true?
I wonder if the Lord knew we would have trouble imagining such a thing when He allowed the Song of Solomon to be included in the Bible.
Interpreting this book is super tricky, and because I take worship so seriously, I have agonized for years about the song I am publishing with this post. Many times I have asked Ron to take it off the record, just out of fear.
I feel trapped because scholars have suggested that it is perverse to interpret Solomon’s song as theological, and they have suggested the same about a secular interpretation. So, while biking Appalachian trails, while washing dishes in the kitchen, while driving alone in my car, I have played the track over my headphones, worrying that maybe I have misunderstood the hope I feel in this passage.
I fear being heretical. Mostly, I fear being rejected, because as I have wrestled with this question, I have come to see that my vulnerability before my God is my deepest vulnerability of all.
In Chapter 2 of this love poem, we find a woman daydreaming about the man she’s going to marry. However, she’s not a stereotypical Disney cartoon princess. In Chapter 1, she’s told us that she is so unattractive that she is ashamed for her beloved to even look at her. And because she has had a life of abuse and physical labor, she hasn’t been able to take care of her own appearance. (“They made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept!”) She’s not just having a bad hair day, she’s worn herself to a thread.
Knowing this background helps me understand the deep emotional risks this woman is taking while telling us her hopes for marriage. She’s marrying a king for goodness sakes — a man other desirable young women want. How much more intimidating could the situation be? If I were her, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to even daydream. I would be hiding in a corner, scared to to death.
But in the privacy of her confession, this young woman tells us how she needs for her husband to pursue her. She admits how much she wants to be delightful to him. She admits what feels embarrassing for me to read, that she even wants him to ask to see her face. That is so delicate and so dangerous.
Maybe only those of us who haven’t felt beautiful can appreciate how risky this is. Reading this part of the book makes my heart race because I feel protective of this woman. I want to shield her deep vulnerability. I fear that she will be hurt or disappointed after putting herself out there.
But she doesn’t give up. She admits what she’s always wanted and what has always felt impossible to a simple, sun-worn working laborer.
Of course, this is an entirely different sort of situation than The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, but when Lucy and Susan are finally allowed to embrace Aslan, Lewis writes: “And so the girls did what they would never have dared to do without his permission, but what they had longed to do ever since they first saw him — buried their cold hands in the beautiful sea of fur and stroked it and, so doing, walked with him.”
Then, after Aslan’s death and resurrection, their union grows even sweeter.
“Oh, children, catch me if you can!” He stood for a second, his eyes very bright, his limbs quivering, lashing himself with his tail. Then he made a leap high over their heads and landed on the other side of the Table. Laughing, though she didn’t know why, Lucy scrambled over it to reach him. Aslan leaped again. A mad chase began. Round and round the hilltop he led them, no hopelessly out of their reach, now letting them almost catch his tail, now diving between them, now tossing them into the air with his huge and beautifully velveteen paws and catching them again, and now stopping unexpectedly so that all three of them rolled over together in a happy laughing heap of fur and arms and legs. It was such a romp as no one has ever had except in Narnia; and whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind. And the funny thing was that when all three finally lay together panting in the sun the girls no longer felt in the least tired or hungry or thirsty.
The unapproachable is brought close, and they find they are delightful to Him.
I don’t think I will ever be able to read that passage without a lump in my throat. Isn’t this what I have always wanted, as long as I have ever wanted anything?
“But, is being loved like that possible?” my soul whispers, for I am standing at the window, waiting for the bridegroom. And I whisper, because I am a child of doubt.
But Song of Solomon 2 is the disrobing of a heart in the broad daylight. This is the cry of a single soul admitting how she needs full and perfect pursuit — how she needs to be delighted in. How utterly humiliating, how desperate, and yet how tender.
Involuntarily, I hold my breath through these verses.
My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
And come away,
For behold, 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 ripens its figs,
And the vines are in blossom;
They give forth fragrance.
Arise my love, my beautiful one,
And come away.
O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,
In the crannies of the cliff,
Let me see your face,
Let me hear your voice,
For your voice is sweet,
And your face is lovely.”
“Please, be pleased with me.”
I don’t know which scholars are right about Song of Solomon. I do know that this human love story threatens to tear down walls inside me that life on planet earth has built up.
“Arise my love, and come away with me,” thrums the hope of my heart. Is it possible that a King might want someone as worn out as I am?
All language is metaphorical said Dorothy Sayers, but so is all of life. The present transposes. If human romance is the highest union of earthly souls, then what is the highest eternal union? Is whatever might come so beautiful that the only way God found to describe it to us used words like “bride” and bridegroom?”
I will confess this to you, though it makes me more vulnerable before strangers than I like to be, that as weary as I am of earth, that thought makes me tremble. God, don’t let me hide from You out of despair. Those eight words are how my bride’s soul longs to hear, “Good and faithful servant, well done.”
“Come Away With Me”
Music: Ron Block/Moonlight Canyon Publishing/BMI/
Lyrics: Rebecca Reynolds/Wynken Owl/BMI
Ron Block: guitars, banjo, lead vocal
Jeff Taylor: piano
Barry Bales: bass
Tim Crouch: strings
Lisa Forbes: vocals
Sierra Hull: mandolin
John Mock: bodhran
Rebecca Reynolds teaches Classical Rhetoric and Philosophy of Faith in eastern Tennessee, and is a contributor to the Story Warren website. She’s the author and illustrator of the pediatric series From the Medical Files of Dr. Phineas C. Bones and collaborated with Ron Block as the lyricist for his critcally-acclaimed album, Walking Song. She lives in Kingsport, Tennessee, with her husband and three children.