Two Love Stories

 

 

The Song of Songs is really two love stories: the story of two lovers, and the story of their love for the Earth. Drawing inspiration from nature, they invent a metaphorical language to express their delight in each other's beauty, grace, and vigor. In the process, they become poetic embodiments of the land and its life.

My love is a gazelle, a wild stag.
There he stands on the other side
of our wall, gazing
between the stones.

---Song of Solomon 2:9

Your breasts are two fawns,
twins of a gazelle,
grazing in a field of lilies.

---Song of Solomon 4:5

But there is more than metaphor in the ability of these two lovers to flow magically from shape to shape. Their fluidity arises from the author's sense of connectedness with the life of the Earth. The Song is an articulation of the primordial religion of love and wonder, and the experience of mystical union. Love has the power to lead us into the most profound communion with nature and its Source, sweeping away the illusion of separateness and uniting Heaven and Earth in a primordial sacred marriage.

"in an embrace of this kind, all considerations of time and place, of what and who, drop away" and they discover in themselves "the primordial 'love that makes the world go round.' There is an extraordinary melting sensation ... and, 'seeing their eyes reflected in each other's, they realize that there is one Self looking out through both... The conceptual boundary between male and female, self and other, dissolves, and---as every spoke leads to the hub---this particular embrace on the this particular day discloses itself as going on forever, behind the scenes."

--- Alan Watts,
"Erotic Spirituality,"1971, p. 89

This erotic wedding of spirit and body is vividly conveyed by the Song's most pervasive metaphor, in which the young woman is pictured as a garden, a vineyard, or---as in verses 4:1 through 4:7---a mountainous landscape filled with animal life. This passage suggests a tryst, sub rosa, high on a hill, where the Song's young lovers survey a broad landscape. They see doves, hiding in a thicket; a flock of goats bounding down the mountainside; white ewes rising from a pond; two fawns grazing together in a field of lilies. All of these images are woven together by the Song's Romeo into a poetic vision celebrating his lover's charms. From his intimate perspective, her sensuous curves seem like continuations of the rolling landscape, and he becomes an explorer on "the mountain of myrrh" and "the hill of frankincense." This linking of landscape and bodyscape is more than metaphor. There is a kind of nature mysticism in the Song of Solomon that springs from an ancient and very different way of relating to the Earth. In his lover, the Song's Romeo discovers nature's human heart; he falls in love with the Earth's human face and voice.

The Song's inherent mysticism becomes more explicit in verses 4:8 through 5:1. We find them standing together on a mountain peak, in the rugged domain of wild animals ("the mountains of the leopards" and "the lion's dens.") But this is also the domain of gods and goddesses, where panoramic vistas awaken a sense of communion with the divine. Here, in the high places, Moses encountered the sky god, Yahweh; and alters stood here for hundreds years in honor of Yahweh's counterpart---the Hebrew goddess, Asherah---until they were destroyed by her enemies (1). Sensing danger in this wilderness, the youth urges his love to return with him to the valley, and after following him down, she merges once again into the landscape. A fresh running stream traces their path from those vistas in the mountains to a secret garden in the valley, bridging the gap between heaven and earth. This stream brings life-giving water from the sky and surges like a fountain in the Earth's fertile recesses. ("You are a fountain in the garden, a well of living waters...") As they make love, she is both the "woman in the garden" and the garden itself. Their lovemaking mingles with that of the primordial lovers, Father Sky and Mother Earth:

Awake, north wind! 0 south wind, come,
breathe upon my garden,
let its spices stream out.
Let my lover come into his garden
and taste its delicious fruit.

Song of Solomon 4:16

I have come into my garden,
my sister, my bride,
I have gathered my myrrh and my spices,
I have eaten from the honeycomb,
I have drunk the milk and the wine.

Song of Solomon 5:1
Translation by Ariel and Chana Bloch

Longing for the most intimate fusion with her lover, her sense of self overflows the illusory boundaries of the body. Her lover is the doorway through whom she plunges into the ocean of life and consciousness in the garden where they make love. That is to say, she becomes the garden; and this sense of oneness with nature and nature's Source is the basis of her confidence that "love is stronger than death" (Song 8:6)---an insight that many people have had, with various degrees of clarity:

"The entire universe is a manifestation of our own deeper being. In our being we are naturally one with all. Through relationship we are trying to rediscover that unity... to discover ourselves beyond the boundaries of the physical body."

---David Frawley
"Vedantic Meditation" 2000, p.57

"Through sacred sexuality, we directly participate in the vastness of being---the mountains, rivers, and animals of the Earth, the planets and the stars, and our next door neighbors"

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
Yes! Magazine, Winter 1998

"Eros is connective energy par excellence. Through erotic passion we overcome our habitual egoic insularity and reach out into the core of other beings. Blazing eros recognizes no barrier; it is the organic impulse toward wholeness"

---Georg Feuerstein

An engaging contemporary account of this unitive experience is given by Trisha Feuerstein, in her husband's book Sacred Sexuality. This is what she wrote:

"My first memory of that incident is of awakening one morning after a night of lovemaking and feeling as if I had not been asleep. I felt as though I was conscious or constantly awake on some higher plane. That entire day I remember feeling totally and perfectly relaxed.

In this perfect relaxation I stood outside of time. It was as if time normally flowed in a horizontal plane, and I had somehow stepped out of this horizontal flow into a timeless state. There was absolutely no sense of the passage of time. To say there was no beginning or ending of time would seem irrelevant. There was simply no time.

I remember coming home from work a few days later, standing in the living room of my little studio apartment, and suddenly realizing that I had no edges. There was no me. The thought arose, and these are the exact words, "This is what I AM in truth." I remember looking over to the door of my apartment and thinking, "There is no difference between door jambs and smog." There is no difference between anything whatsoever. Everything is the same. There is only apparent difference.

I remember that the thoughts also arose, "You could shoot me in this moment and I would laugh." Everything material seemed superfluous. It was all spontaneously and playfully arising from one great source, and it could just as well cease to arise in any moment.

Somehow I had become infinity with eyes. I felt as if I had just been born in that moment, or that I had been asleep all my life and had just awakened. I also remember thinking that this was the true condition of everyone and that everyone could know this.

This particular moment remains, seventeen years later, the single most significant moment of my life. It was also the most ordinary, simple, happy, normal, neurosis-free moment of my life. I was simply being what I AM, and what everyone else IS, in truth.

I remained in this state of edgelessness for about three weeks, and life was intensely magnified. When I walked, I felt so light it was as if my feet did not touch the ground. I had no appetite for food---in fact, most of what I tried to eat left a strange metallic taste in my mouth. And although I ate almost nothing during this period, I lost no weight. I remember telling my lover that it felt as if my spine were plugged into the "universal socket" and that it was a source of infinite energy.

During this time I was more creative than I had ever been---or have been since---both at work and outside of work. All the limits on my thinking were no longer in place. I also became prescient---seeing into the future and then later experiencing the scenes I had foreseen down to the last detail. This astonished me.

I also remember sitting at my desk at work one day and turning to look at one of my officemates. In an instant I was drowning in bliss, overwhelmed with love and compassion for my fellow worker, and for every being and thing I looked at. I loved everyone, including my lover, the same ---infinitely. There was really no one separate to love. Tears silently rolled down my cheeks. I felt infinite love and infinite pain at the same time, the pain arising from realizing the power and primacy of love, yet how little we love.

I remember thinking that this universal love is what the Madonna symbolizes. Then suddenly I felt as if I were the source of all creation, that the universe was arising from me, or through me---from whatever this infinite thing was I had become."

---Trisha Feuerstein
"Sacred Sexuality," by Georg Feuerstein

Christian mystics---like the mystics of other spiritual traditions---made the same discovery: At the root of all, there is a single unifying Self:

"The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me: my eye and God's eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing and one love."

---Meister Eckhart, German Sermon No. 12.

"The knower and the known are one. Simple people imagine that they should see God as if he stood there and they here. This is not so. God and I, we are one in knowledge ... God is nearer to me than I am to myself."

---Meister Eckhart

Speaking from the same vista of consciousness, Jesus said, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:24-30) and "I am the vine; you are the branches." (John 15:5) Likewise, in the Gospel of Thomas, he suggests that when we come to know ourselves on the deepest level, we come to know God: "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.'' For that reason the Gospel of Philip advises, "Do not seek to become a Christian, but a Christ.'' And in the literature of "bridal mysticism," medieval mystics---using the erotic language of the Song of Solomon---describe the experience of "unitive consciousness" as a mystical union with Christ.

The experience of unitive consciousness is generally associated with self-denial and disciplined prayer or meditation. But in the Song of Solomon this insight is charged with eros, reflecting the author's awareness that it can arise, at times, in a sexual context, as a result of deeply felt, selfless love---which is, after all, a way of transcending one's own limited sense of self.

The Song of Songs was set in its final form some 300 years before the birth of Christ, and it preserves elements that are much older---rooted in a time when our sacred role in the regeneration of life was thought to be the very heart of religion. The earth was perceived as the visible body of the Goddess---the manifest Source of Life. In that context, it would have been quite natural for a young woman who was crossing the border from childhood to motherhood to identify with this maternal Source---to imagine herself as a garden of earthly delights for her lover's pleasure, and to be open to the experience of mystical union with the creative power of the universe.

In her book, Sacred Pleasure, Riane Eisler pointed out the vast difference between historic and prehistoric views of sexuality. This difference is evident in early Neolithic art, which features numerous images of pregnancy and birth. At the same time, there are very few scenes of men raping women and killing each other in battle. Eros was regarded as the vitalizing principle of the universe, and the Song of Songs resonates with that ethos. Eisler compares it with the hymns to Inanna, in that it contains:

"important clues to an earlier time when, far from being a male "sex object," woman was seen as the conduit for what in Indian sacred writings is called the kundalini: the powerful divine energy from whence comes both life and bliss."

---Riane Eisler
Sacred Pleasure 1995, p.68

There are even references to the rite of sacred marriage---an act of sympathetic magic, in which the king and the high-priestess engaged in sexual intercourse in order to stimulate the regeneration of nature and ensure a bountiful harvest. The Song goes deeper, to the primordial root of this ceremony.

The idea that sexual intercourse can exert a magical power over nature seems naive and superstitious in this scientific age. Nevertheless, the rite of sacred marriage was, in a way, prophetic. Our role in the regeneration of life is now absolutely crucial for the well-being of all life on this planet. We need to rediscover that the Earth is our own body. Our health and viability as a species are inseparably linked with the integrity of the biosphere. The poisons that we dump into the Earth's circulatory system, end up in our own. For our own sake and for the sake of our children and grandchildren, we need to be actively engaged in preserving and repairing Earth's ecosystems. The greatest obstacles to this vital work are war and the reckless exploitation of natural resources and labor.

Make Love, Not War

"The ecological spirituality called for today is founded in a deep recognition of the unity of life
---a unity that is celebrated in the act of love"

"we share our somatic reality with countless other beings with whom we are interconnected and interdependent. Contemporary spirituality is, then, meaningful only to the degree that it is ecological in the broadest sense of the term."

---Feuerstein

Recently James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and arguably the world's leading researcher on global warming, was interviewed on the television program 60 Minutes. Hansen sees compelling evidence that we have just 10 years to reduce greenhouse gases before global warming reaches a tipping point and becomes unstoppable.

As a government scientist, Hansen is taking a risk. There are things the White House doesn't want you to hear about, but he is determined to say them anyway. "In my more than three decades in the government I've never witnessed such restrictions on the ability of scientists to communicate with the public," he says. Politicians are rewriting the science.

In several interviews with the New York Times, Hansen stated that officials at NASA headquarters had ordered the public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, interviews, papers, and postings on the Goddard Website. "They feel their job is to be this censor of information going out to the public," he said, and pointed out that this is only the latest in a long series of attempts to muzzle government climatologists. Hansen said he would ignore these restrictions because "public concern is probably the only thing capable of overcoming the special interests that have obfuscated the topic."

Given that global warming is a problem that will not be solved without broad public support and participation, why would the current administration---which claims to be the great defender of our national security---want us to remain ignorant of this threat to our security? And who are the "special interests" that have "obfuscated" this critical issue?

In 1961, the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe during World War II---Dwight D. Eisenhower---chose the moment of his farewell address, as president of the United States, to warn Americans about the rising power of the military-industrial complex. Nor was Eisenhower the first to sound the alarm. Back in 1933, Major General Smedley Butler wrote a searing indictment of the war racket:

I helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

Eisenhower's warning has proven prophetic. Due to the continuing failure of campaign finance reform, and a few stolen elections, the U.S. government is now controlled by what John Perkins refers to as a "corporatocracy": a network of corporations, banks, and U.S.-dominated aid agencies. This takeover has been a long process, under both democratic and republican administrations. Read Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, by John Perkins.

Economic hit men," John Perkins writes, "are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. Their tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder." John Perkins should know -- he was an economic hit man. His job was to convince countries that are strategically important to the U.S.---from Indonesia to Panama ---to accept enormous loans for infrastructure development, and to make sure that the lucrative projects were contracted to U. S. corporations. Saddled with huge debts, these countries came under the control of the United States government, World Bank, and other U.S.-dominated aid agencies that acted like loan sharks---dictating repayment terms and bullying foreign governments into submission.

The first step toward solving a problem is acknowledging the problem. Americans need to wake up and shake off their all-too-often willful ignorance---mesmerized, as they are, by the bread and circuses of the corporate media. Here are several powerful teaching tools. If you care about what sort of world your grandchildren will inherit, watch these documentaries and recommend them to your friends:

The Ground Truth, An Inconvenient Truth, Why We Fight, The Corporation, UnconstitutionalFast Food Nation , and Sicko (among many others).

A Maiden In Distress

The Song of Songs is really two love stories: the story of two lovers, and the story of their love for the Earth. Larry Rasmussen, author of Earth Community, Earth Ethics made the same observation:

"Song of Songs," of course, refers to that Earthy little book of the Hebrew Bible where you've got two love stories going on at the same time---you've got this sensuous love between human beings, and then you've got the sensuous love of these passionate souls for the land and its life.

The Icon 'Round God's Neck

The depth of our love is being measured on this eve of destruction, as war and ecocide threaten to destroy our children's life-support system. The Earth is a maiden in distress.

"Earth remains our Mother, as God remains our Father, and our Mother will only lay in the Father's arms those who remain true to her. Earth and its distress---that is the Christian's 'Song of Songs.'"

---Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The Foundations of Christian Ethics

"Our religious vocation for the foreseeable future is Earthkeeping. Fidelity to God now expresses itself as fidelity to the Earth."

--Larry Rassmussen

Wedding the Land

In the matriarchal societies of the ancient Near East, and during the transition to patriarchy, kingship was conferred by wedding the high priestess, which was a symbolic way of wedding the Earth herself---the maternal Source of life. We find a reference to this rite in verse 3:11. Notice that it is Solomon's mother who provides the crown, and his marriage which provides the occassion for his coronation.

Come out, O daughters of Zion,
and gaze at Solomon the King!
See the crown his mother set on his head
on the day of his wedding,
the day of his heart's great joy.

---Song of Solomon 3:11

By wedding the land, the king became the shepherd of his kingdom and accepted the priviledge and responsibility of stewardship. This is an idea that needs to be reinvented for a more democratic age. We are living in a perilous time, and the Earth is in dire need of responsible stewardship.

When two people fall in love and start a family, they affirm the beauty and essential goodness of this world. By blessing the Earth with children, we participate in the renewal of this unique human way of experiencing and exploring the universe. We co-create the world with God. We marry the land. As in the ancient rite of sacred marriage, a contemporary wedding presents an opportunity for two lovers to declare this affirmation of human life. And, for those who care deeply about the Earth and her distress, it presents an opportunity to declare their love and commitment, not only to each other but to their children and grandchildren.

In these perilous times, when human beings have the power to completely destroy the biosphere and abort all life on this planet, a wedding ceremony takes on a whole new meaning. Our species has been almost too successful in the long battle for survival, and we have yet to learn how to live in harmony with nature, and manage the Earth's finite resources in a way that is wise and sustainable. Our sacred role in the regeneration of life--- considered by our Neolithic ancestors to be the very heart of religion---has, in fact, become absolutely critical for the preservation of life on Earth.

Christians have a vital role to play in this much needed healing. As Mark Wallace put it in his essay, "The Green Face of God," the Christian spiritual tradition is the "the pharmakon of looming environmental disaster." Christianity is, in part, "both the cause of the problem and its solution."

"Lynn White, in a now famous essay, writes that Western Christianity's attack on paganism effectively stripped the natural world of any spiritual meaning by replacing the belief that the Sacred is in rivers and trees with the doctrine that God is a disembodied Spirit whose true residence is in heaven, not on earth.

The impact of Christianity's antipagan teachings has tended to empty the biosphere of any sense of God's presence in natural things.

But if the root of the environmental problem is deeply spiritual or religious at its core, it is also the case, ironically, that a partial answer to the problem lies in a rehabilitation of the earth-friendly teachings within the spiritual traditions that seem most hostile to nature, namely, the Christian tradition.

Christianity, then, is the pharmakon of looming environmental disaster: in part, it is both the cause of the problem and its solution. It is both the origin of the ecocidal "disease" from which we suffer and its "cure," insofar as it provides resources for a new green mindset toward nature that is a prophylactic against antinature attitudes and habits."

A rich store of such resources can be found in the Christian mystical tradition. And in the Song of Solomon, as I have tried to show, there is a profound spiritual dimension: a deep sense of oneness with nature and its Source. This is the consciousness that we need to cultivate in our art and literature, and translate into political action, if our children and grandchildren are to live and thrive in a free society on a healthy planet.

"The ecological spirituality called for today is founded in a deep recognition of the unity of life
---a unity that is celebrated in the act of love"

---Feuerstein

"we share our somatic reality with countless other beings with whom we are interconnected and interdependent. Contemporary spirituality is, then, meaningful only to the degree that it is ecological in the broadest sense of the term."

---Feuerstein

"The Earth remains our mother just as God remains our father, and our mother will only lay in the father's arms those who are true to her. Earth and its distress---this is the Christian's song of songs."

---Bonhoeffer

"Our religious vocation for the foreseeable future is Earthkeeping. Fidelity to God now expresses itself as fidelity to the Earth."

---Rassmussen

"The world is pregnant with God."

---Angela of Foligno


1) For more about the Hebrew Goddess (Asherah/Astarte) watch the PBS documentary, Empires: Kingdom of David: The Saga of the Israelites, and read: Official Religion and Popular Religion in Pre-Exilic Ancient Israel, by Jacques Berlinerblau, and The Hebrew Goddess, by Raphael Patai..

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