Arise, My Love, and Come Away

Song of Songs 2:8-13

This week I watched a movie called The Spectacular Now, a story about a troubled High School student named Sutter: Sutter’s father left when he was young, he has no plans for the future and he doubts if anyone will ever truly love.  He suspects that once people truly get to know him, they will take off like his father.

He covers over these fears with excessive use of alcohol.

One day Sutter meets a young girl named Amy.  His buddy comments, “She’s not like the other girls that you usually date.”

Sutter responds and says, “When you actually talk to her and see who she is, she’s really beautiful.”

Sutter sees the beauty of Amy’s heart and so they take time getting to know each other – going on walks and eating lunch together in the cafeteria.

Amy sees Sutter troubled heart and she tries to help him heal some of his wounds, including the one with his estranged father.  In the midst of Sutter’s suffering, she says to him, “I love you.”

Sutter responds what he has always believed: You don’t love me.  You can’t love someone like me.

He goes home and says similar words to his mother.  He says, “No one loves me.”

He sees all of his faults and mistakes

and all he can see is his life playing out in failure, with him ending up alone.

His mother says to him in response, remember in 3rd grade, when Ricky was on crutches for a month, you carried his books every day, and when you were ten and Rosemary lost her mother, you invited her to live with us and said that I would be her new mom.  Do you remember that?  You have a big heart.  She reminds him of his strength and of his ability to experience and give love, even when he can’t remember himself.

As a side note, I would like to say that the choice of the recovery lies in the hand of the person with addiction and it can be very hard for loved ones to watch their friend & family members struggled with it.  This story that I shared comes from a Hollywood movie that does not depict the fullness of life with addiction.  However, I chose to share it because I think it is fascinating that it depicts Sutter as unable to accept love, from his friend and mother.

“You can’t love someone like me.”

I wonder, how often do we feel like Sutter?

How often do we think that our whole self – including our shadow part full of guilt, mistakes & inadequacies – is not worthy of love?

I think the Holy One knows how much we struggle with these questions – which is why over and over again, in as many ways as possible, God tells us how much we are loved, so that it can really sink into the deepest layers of our souls.

We have talked about this in terms of God creating us and calling us good, in terms of God naming us at baptism as bright, brilliant, beloved children of God and in terms of God coming in the form of Jesus to share the good news.

But today, we heard about that love in a different form.

Today we hear about it in the form of poetry.

The Song of Songs is a series of love poems between a man and woman but many view it as more than that.  Historically Jews interpret it as a love song between God and God’s people … all Scriptures are Holy, says one Rabbi, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.  One commentator that I read interpreted it as a love song between God and all of creation.

God’s love for us, they suggested, is like this love between a woman and her betrothed.

Which is interesting because betrothed couples make promises to each other, promises like:

I promise to love you and be by your side for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.

Just like a woman to her betrothed, God makes promises to us too.

God says to us,

You will be my people and I will be your God.

God promises to love us, no matter what kind of baggage or fears or mishaps we might carry.

God promises to care for us and to make us – and the world – into new creations, that we might experience the wholeness and transformation in our lives and souls.

God makes the promises and knows that we forget sometimes.

And so we have Song of Songs.

A book of romantic love poems.

So that we might remember the deep truth that, at our core, we are indeed loved and loveable.

Sutter’s story shows us how powerful our fears can be, how tempting it is to hide our true selves, which is striking in light of today’s Scripture.

Today’s scripture is about a woman and her beloved, but if you look closer, it is the story of a woman, hiding behind a wall, separated from her love.

Her lover deeply wants to be with her but this woman is afraid and she  hides her face and her love comes to the wall and speaks to her, saying “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.”

The beloved invites the woman to step out into the open and to reveal herself and experience fully God’s love. Yet, for some reason, she remains afraid.

And so again, her beloved says to her, “Arise my love, and come away.”

Come out from behind the wall.  That image from today’s scripture reminds me of words I hear this week from Rev. Eliza Buchakjian-Tweedy, a UCC pastor.  Buchakjian-Tweedy was reflecting on what it is that Jesus calls us to do.  Pensively, she said, “I think Jesus calls us to do hard work and be vulnerable, to hear stories of rejection and cruelty, to risk giving to those who might use us; Jesus calls us to examine our lives and then to actually change in order to love more fully.”

Perhaps the call to “come away” in today’s passage is a call to be vulnerable, to risk listening to the stories of others, that our lives might be changed. Perhaps it is the call to create safe spaces, where people can come out from behind the wall and share who they are.

As I reflected on these words, a phrase came to me from when I worked as a community organizer, organizing around issues of economic justice.   The phrase: Step Up, Step Back.  This phrase was an oft-used guideline meant to invite people who typically did most of the talking to take a step back and for those who were most often quiet to step up and to share their thoughts and perspectives.

I wonder if a bit of what Jesus calls to do as disciples, and what our beloved invites us to in today’s scripture, is to not only share ourselves but also to step back and hear the stories from those who are most marginalized and vulnerable in our society, the ones we don’t normally hear.

What stories might those be?  Stories from our black and brown brothers and sisters?  Stories of those from another socioeconomic class?  Stories from those who are gay and lesbian?  Story of those from other walks of life or geographic areas? What stories is God calling us to hear?  How is God inviting us to step out from behind the wall and to come away to a place that is a bit outside that with which we are normally comfortable?

“Arise, my love, and come away.”

Today’s invitation is one to experience the fullness of love, in our lives and in the lives of others.

It is an invitation. To listen. To speak. To take risks.  To step up. To step back.  And to step outside our comfort zones.

That in stepping out we may come closer to God’s own heart.

Amen.

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