The Song of Songs is about longing and passion, and rarely about consummation. It’s about being fully present to the beloved, and if it’s carnal, it’s a carnality that includes all of the senses. The lovers’ kisses are better than wine, more intoxicating, because they don’t deaden the senses, but bring them to life. Often, when we are beginners at love, we are frightened by the intensity of our bodies, particularly when we’re young and our hormones hold sway. The passions that come upon us are terrifying and uncontrollable. So we drink to excess, because we want to experience passion, but we also want to deaden its intensity. But by deadening our senses we only allow ourselves to experience a muted version of love.
The Shulamite, the female character who narrates much of the Song of Songs, has all of her senses open. She loses herself in the scent of her lover, a scent of myrrh and aloes. She doesn’t see passion as bad, but as a means of opening herself to the fullness of experience – it’s olfactory essence, its tactile nature, its sounds and sights.
Somewhere along the line, most of us learn to close ourselves off from the world, but not the Shulamite. Evelyn Underhill talks about this closing off when she describes two men, “Eyes” and “No Eyes,” who both decide to take a walk:
“No-Eyes” has fixed his attention on the fact that he is obliged to take a walk. For him the chief factor of existence is his own movement along the road; a movement which he intends to accomplish as efficiently and comfortably as he can. He asks not to know what may be on either side of the hedges. He ignores the caress of the wind until it threatens to remove his hat. He trudges along, steadily, diligently; avoiding the muddy pools, but oblivious of the light which they reflect. “Eyes” takes the walk too: and for him it is a perpetual revelation of beauty and wonder. The sunlight inebriates him, the winds delight him, the very effort of the journey is a joy. Magic presences throng the roadside, or cry salutations to him from the hidden fields. The rich world through which he moves lies in the fore-ground of his consciousness; and it gives up new secrets to him at every step. “No-Eyes,” when told of his adventures, usually refuses to believe that both have gone by the same road. He fancies that his companion has been floating about in the air, or beset by agreeable hallucinations. We shall never persuade him to the contrary unless we persuade him to look for himself.(1)
The Shulamite’s passionate longing teaches her to look for herself, and surely this is one of the great gifts of passion. Her longing is egoless – it’s a deep, enraptured love of the beloved and an intense desire to use every one of her senses when encountering the beloved. She doesn’t want anything to get in the way of her senses – no intoxication, no wine. What would life be like if we could follow her example and open our perceptions to the one we love? If our primary love is for God and God’s world, our experience of it will become magnificent if we can be as fearless as the Shulamite.
(1)Underhill, Evelyn (2011-03-30). Practical Mysticism A Little Book for Normal People (Kindle Locations 148-151). . Kindle Edition.