Of love songs and dirges

20 Mar

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—
for your love is more delightful than wine.
Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes;
your name is like perfume poured out.
No wonder the young women love you!
Take me away with you—let us hurry!
Let the king bring me into his chambers.
We rejoice and delight in you;
we will praise your love more than wine.

Song of Solomon 1:2-4 NIV

How deserted lies the city,
once so full of people!
How like a widow is she,
who once was great among the nations!
She who was queen among the provinces
has now become a slave.
Bitterly she weeps at night,
tears are on her cheeks.
Among all her lovers
there is no one to comfort her.
All her friends have betrayed her;
they have become her enemies.
After affliction and harsh labor,
Judah has gone into exile.
She dwells among the nations;
she finds no resting place.
All who pursue her have overtaken her
in the midst of her distress.

Lamentations 1:1-3 NIV

When I originally put the 1189 reading schedule together, I think I grouped Song of Solomon and Lamentations together for the simple reason I was aiming at an average of 12 chapters a day, and as I neared the end of the Old Testament readings, these two remaining smaller books fit that bracket nicely (total of 13 chapters).

But reading them back to back yesterday and today…what a pairing.

Comparing the first three verses of each – the first a song celebrating love and intimacy, the second a dirge of lamentation of unspeakable grief that somehow has to be put into words…what contrasting conditions! Wonder and woe; love and lament, pleasure and Passion. Two songs standing as bookends over a span of 400 years; the first from the pinnacle of Solomon’s glory, the other from the depths of the weeping prophet’s grief. The lovesick bride anticipating the intimacies of her Lover, the pleasures and dalliance of their consumated love. Surely this love song, this couple so deeply in love lie beneath a banner reading “they lived happily ever after.”

But the lovesick virgin now sits a desolate widow, grieving, inconsolable.

Just reading the love song in such close proximity to the dirge for me compounds the pain of Lamentations. So much lost. In the most ancient arrangement of these books, they did sit in close proximity, being two of the five shorter Old Testament books making up the Megillot, the collection of the five scrolls: Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther. Just following the progression of the five scrolls tells the story: a love song, a love story, pain, pointlessness, and perseverance to ultimate deliverance.

It’s the rhythm of passion and despair, intimacy and abandonment, wonder and woe, that strikes me in the pairing of these books. How we seek and exalt the intimacy, desperately searching for it like the lovesick bride looking for her beloved on dark and empty streets. How desperately we seek to avoid the rhythms of pain – insulating ourselves with religion, numbing ourselves with whatever is handy, desperately trying to stave them off like Quint kicking at the gaping jaws of the great white. But both rhythms continue to play in this fallen world. Hearing the cries of those watching helplessly as their world is swept away by an unstoppable tsunami you can’t help but hear the wailing of Lamentations.

Both rhythms continue to play.

And so, into the dance we enter, pressing into the passion for Life, for Love, for Truth – and preparing for the pain that will inevitably leave us tumbling onto the floor with our hands stretched out and upward as we strain to hear and take up the centering words of Lamentations 3:16-24…

He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.
I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the LORD.”

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”


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